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Lapid lands in Bahrain on landmark trip to open embassy, sign agreements

1st visit to Gulf country by minister since diplomatic relations established; nations to confirm water, environment, sport deals; direct Manama-Tel Aviv flights launched

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (left) is received by his Bahraini counterpart Abdullatif Al Zayani at the airport in Manama, Bahrain, September 30, 2021. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (left) is received by his Bahraini counterpart Abdullatif Al Zayani at the airport in Manama, Bahrain, September 30, 2021. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

MANAMA — Foreign Minister Yair Lapid landed in Bahrain on Thursday morning for the first ministerial visit to the island kingdom since relations were formally established last year.

He is set to open Israel’s embassy in Manama later in the day, and to sign agreements on water, environment and sports.

Lapid was received on the tarmac by Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani.

Israel’s top diplomat placed his hand on his heart and bowed slightly to his host, who returned the gesture.

Lapid and Zayani are slated to hold an initial meeting after the Israeli foreign minister’s COVID-19 results come through. The meeting is part of the official diplomatic dialogue the countries agreed upon in 2020.

This is not the first time the two have met, having held a meeting for the first time in Rome in June.

A Bahraini guard stands next to Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s plane at the airport in Manama, Bahrain, September 30, 2021. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)

However, Lapid is the first foreign minister to visit Bahrain. In 1994, Environmental Affairs minister Yossi Sarid traveled to the kingdom to participate in regional talks and meet with Bahrain’s foreign minister.

The first commercial flight between Manama and Tel Aviv also took off for Israel Thursday morning shortly after Lapid landed. Passengers include the heads of Gulf Air and a Jewish chef named Alex, who owns a restaurant in Bahrain and is flying to Israel to see his mother and two sisters.

The Israeli foreign minister is accompanied on his trip by Foreign Ministry Director General Alon Ushpiz and Deputy Director General for Middle Eastern Affairs Oded Yossef.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met on Sunday in New York with both Zayani and UAE Foreign Minister Khalifa al-Marar on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Bennett told Zayani that he was looking forward to meeting with Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa at some point in the future.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (C) meets with UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Khalifa al-Marar, (R) and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani (L) at his hotel in New York on Sunday evening. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Earlier this month, longtime diplomat Eitan Na’eh was tapped to serve as Israel’s ambassador to Manama. The nomination of Na’eh — who is still serving as an envoy to the United Arab Emirates pending his confirmation — came on the same day that Bahraini Ambassador to Israel Khaled Yousef al-Jalahmah met Lapid in the Knesset and presented the foreign minister with his credentials.

Two weeks later, Jalahma officially presented his credentials to President Isaac Herzog, a day before the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Abraham Accords.

Jalahma said it was “a great honor” to be Bahrain’s first ambassador to Israel, adding that he was “confident that this historic step will lay a solid foundation for relations between our two countries, based on the values of tolerance and coexistence between peoples, beliefs, and religions.”

Bahrain’s first-ever envoy to Israel Khaled Yousif Al-Jalahma (R) presents his letter of credence to President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem, September 14, 2021. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Since becoming foreign minister in June, Lapid has also visited the United Arab Emirates and Morocco, two countries that Israel has normalized relations with over the past year.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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