The second ministerial delegation from Bahrain in two weeks landed in Israel Tuesday morning with hopes of deepening the two countries’ budding economic ties.
During his three-day stay, Bahraini Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism Zayed R. Alzayani, who arrived with a delegation of about 40 businesspeople, is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and four Israeli cabinet members.
“The visit is very significant from our perspective,” said Eliav Benjamin, the head of the Arab world desk at Israel’s Foreign Ministry. “It is an illustration of what we and what the Bahrainis want to see in our relations — progress in our cooperation. This is true normalization between our two countries: trade, commerce, meetings between delegations and ministers and businesspeople.”
Alzayani’s visit comes just two weeks after Bahrain’s foreign minister, Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, became the first minister from the tiny Gulf kingdom to visit the Jewish state.
The commerce minister’s Gulf Air plane touched down Tuesday afternoon at Ben Gurion Airport, where he was greeted by Economy Minister Amir Peretz, Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis and Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen. His delegation was then set to head to Jerusalem for various meetings with Israeli officials and businesspeople.
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On Wednesday, Alzayani is scheduled to meet with Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and to attend an exhibition about Israeli technology and innovation the Foreign Ministry is organizing in his honor in Jerusalem. He is also expected to sign a tourism agreement and possible additional agreements, though they have not yet been finalized.
On Thursday, the Bahraini minister is planning to tour the Diamond Exchange in Ramat Gan and participate in a gathering of Israeli and Bahraini businesspeople before heading back to Manama.
Both Netanyahu and Ashkenazi had planned separate visits visit Bahrain later this week but postponed them at the Gulf kingdom’s request.
Netanyahu’s trip, which would be the first-ever officially announced visit to a Gulf Arab country by an Israeli prime minister, will reportedly take place in late December instead of next week.
Netanyahu said Tuesday morning that he had spoken on the phone with Bahrain’s crown prince and prime minister, Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who invited him to visit the Gulf nation, months after the countries agreed to normalize ties.
Netanyahu said he would soon embark on the trip, and his office began planning a visit for this week.
However, before the trip was finalized, Bahrain asked Netanyahu to delay the visit until later next month and make it part of a broader Gulf tour that includes the United Arab Emirates, Israeli officials told reporters last week.
The Israeli leader has reportedly also contacted Abu Dhabi about a state visit. But the UAE had told Netanyahu that its national day, which falls on December 2, would make a visit this week inconvenient, prompting the Israeli leader to press ahead with plans to only visit Bahrain, the officials said.
A new date has yet to be set, but the tour will likely see Netanyahu visit both Gulf states which established diplomatic ties with Israel in September.
Ashkenazi’s planned trip to Bahrain on December 3 had been delayed for unclear reasons. A spokesperson for the foreign minister said that Bahrain diplomatic protocol maintains that a head of state or government invited by the crown prince must visit before other cabinet members may do so.
Ashkenazi had been slated to participate in the IISS Manama Dialogue security conference, according to the ministry, and would have been the highest-ranking Israeli to visit the tiny island nation.