Israeli Officials in First Bahrain Visit After Normalization Accords

Unidentified senior representatives meet to discuss areas of future cooperation ■ First direct commercial flight lands in Manama to little fanfare

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U.S. President's senior adviser Jared Kushner meets meets Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa in Manama, Bahrain, September 1, 2020.
U.S. President's senior adviser Jared Kushner meets meets Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa in Manama, Bahrain, September 1, 2020.Credit: Bahrain News Agency/Handout via REUTERS

An official Israeli delegation arrived in Bahrain Wednesday to discuss cooperation in light of the normalization declaration between the two countries, Bahrain's state news agency reported.

“A working team from the state of Israel visited Manama today to discuss areas of cooperation between the two countries,” a Bahrain government spokesperson said in a brief statement. “These talks come after the signing of the Declaration of Peace.”

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Bahrain did not identify the officials taking part, nor say whom they spoke to while in Manama.

The Israeli delegation's arrival also marked the first known direct commercial flight between Israel and the island kingdom, just a week after it signed a deal alongside the United Arab Emirates to normalize relations.

Flight data showed an Israir Airlines Airbus A320 landed at Bahrain International Airport after a nearly three-hour flight from Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport. Hours later, Bahrain acknowledged the flight carried a delegation of Israeli officials.

The U.S. Embassy in Manama did not respond to a request for comment.

The flight was made without ceremony, in sharp contrast to the first El Al flight from Israel to the United Arab Emirates at the end of August. That plane carried U.S. and Israeli officials, including President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as media.

There was no acknowledgement of the flight from the Israeli government, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by telephone Tuesday to Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa. Netanyahu described the conversation on Twitter as "outstanding," saying the two discussed how they were "pouring content into the agreements between Bahrain and Israel, turning this peace into economic peace, technological peace, tourist peace." Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates’ state news agency WAM reported Wednesday that UAE and Israeli energy ministers have discussed possible cooperation and investment opportunties in oil, gas and green energy.

In Bahrain, civil society groups have criticized the move to normalize relations with Israel, saying that recognition should come only after Palestinians obtain their own independent state.

Bahrain, an island off the coast of Saudi Arabia home to the U.S. Navy’s fifth Fleet and a British naval base, has a predominantly Shiite population ruled by a Sunni royal family. Arab Spring protests there in 2011 ended with authorities cracking down with the help of Saudi and Emirati forces.

Bahrain and the UAE signed normalization agreements September 15 with Israel at the White House, part of a U.S. diplomatic push as Trump seeks re-election.

The UAE and Israel have moved quickly to explore commercial ties after their normalization deal. Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa previously had been quoted as saying he believed Arab countries should drop their boycott of Israel.

Reuters contributed to this report.