Israel, Bahrain sign deal establishing formal ties

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Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin arrive in Muharraq, Bahrain, October 18, 2020. (Reuters)
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Head of Israel's National Security Council Meir Ben-Shabbat delivers a statement upon his arrival at the Bahraini International Airport on October 18, 2020. (AFP)
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Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani, deliver statements upon the Israeli delegation's arrival in Muharraq, Bahrain October 18, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 October 2020

Israel, Bahrain sign deal establishing formal ties

  • US, Israeli and Bahraini flags festooned the tarmac before take-off
  • Israel's commercial El Al flight 973 — a nod to the international dialing code for Bahrain — flew to Manama

JERUSALEM: Israel and Bahrain on Sunday agreed to establish formal diplomatic relations, making the country the fourth Arab state to normalize ties with Israel.
The US-brokered agreement capped a one-day visit by a high-level delegation of American and Israeli officials to Bahrain.
Bahrain joined the UAE at a festive White House ceremony last month marking the “Abraham Accords,” a pair of US-brokered diplomatic pacts with Israel. While the UAE’s deal with Israel formally established ties, the agreement with Bahrain was less detailed and included a mutual pledge to follow suit.
Sunday’s visit appeared to complete that task, clearing the way for the countries to open embassies and exchange ambassadors in the coming months.
“It was indeed an historic visit, to start opening relations between both countries, to have fruitful bilateral relations in both fields,” said Bahrain's foreign minister, Abdullatif Al-Zayani, at the signing ceremony.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat, led the delegations.
“Today we made the first formal step in bringing closer ties between the countries,” Ben-Shabbat said. "We were accepted with open arms, with warmth and cordiality.”
“This is an important step in stability in the region, in bring prosperity to all the people in the region and in the countries,” added Mnuchin.

Mnuchin and Ben-Shabbat were received at the Al-Qudaibiya Palace in Manama by the country’s deputy prime minister.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Mubarak Al-Khalifa said the normalization of relations between Bahrain and Israel "confirms King Hamad’s commitment to peace as a strategic option” through which stability, prosperity and peace could be achieved in the region.

Sheikh Mohammed added that this would ensure the success of efforts to achieve a solution to the Palestinian issue through a two-state solution, international resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative.

Israel’s agreements with the UAE and Bahrain have marked diplomatic victories for the Trump administration and for Netanyahu.
But they have come under heavy criticism from the Palestinians, who have long counted on a unified Arab stance that recognition of Israel should come only after the Palestinians achieve an independent state of their own. The agreements reflect a shifting Middle East, in which shared concerns about Iran and business opportunities have overshadowed the Palestinian issue.
The Palestinians have severed ties with the White House, accusing it of being unfairly biased toward Israel. U.S. officials have in turn cultivated ties between Israel and Arab states, hoping to increase pressure on the Palestinians to reduce past demands in peace talks.
Israel’s commercial El Al flight was fiven the code 973 — a nod to the international dialing code for Bahrain.
The El Al flight landed at Bahrain International Airport on Sunday afternoon. 
Egypt and Jordan are the only other two Arab states to sign diplomatic treaties with Israel, in 1979 and 1994, respectively.


US officials: Iran sent emails intimidating American voters

Updated 22 October 2020

US officials: Iran sent emails intimidating American voters

  • Intelligence director: “These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries”

WASHINGTON: US officials accused Iran on Wednesday of being behind a flurry of emails sent to Democratic voters in multiple battleground states that appeared to be aimed at intimidating them into voting for President Donald Trump.
The announcement at a rare, hastily called news conference just two weeks before the election underscored the concern within the US government about efforts by foreign countries to spread false information meant to suppress voter turnout and undermine American confidence in the vote.
The activities attributed to Iran would mark a significant escalation for a nation that some cybersecurity experts regard as a second-rate player in online espionage, with the announcement coming as most public discussion surrounding election interference has centered on Russia, which hacked Democratic emails during the 2016 election, and China, a Trump administration adversary.
“These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries,” said John Ratcliffe, the government’s top intelligence official, who, along with FBI Director Chris Wray, insisted the US would impose costs on any foreign countries that interfere in the 2020 US election and that the integrity of the election is still sound.
“You should be confident that your vote counts,” Wray said. “Early, unverified claims to the contrary should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism.”
Wray and Ratcliffe did not describe the emails linked to Iran, but officials familiar with the matter said the US has linked Tehran to messages sent to Democratic voters in at least four battleground states that falsely purported to be from the neo-fascist group Proud Boys and that warned “we will come after you” if the recipients didn’t vote for Trump.
The officials also said Iran and Russia had obtained voter registration data, though such data is considered easily, publicly accessible. Tehran used the information to send out the spoofed emails, which were sent to voters in states including Pennsylvania and Florida.
Ratcliffe said the spoofed emails were intended to hurt Trump, though he did not elaborate on how. An intelligence assessment released in August said: “Iran seeks to undermine US democratic institutions, President Trump, and to divide the country in advance of the 2020 elections. Iran’s efforts along these lines probably will focus on online influence, such as spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-US content.”
Trump, speaking at a rally in North Carolina, made no reference to the press conference but repeated a familiar campaign assertion that Iran is opposed to his reelection. He promised that if he wins another term he will swiftly reach a new accord with Iran over its nuclear program.
“Iran doesn’t want to let me win. China doesn’t want to let me win,” Trump said. “The first call I’ll get after we win, the first call I’ll get will be from Iran saying let’s make a deal.”
Both Russia and Iran also obtained voter registration information, though such data is considered easily, publicly accessible. Tehran used the information to send out the spoofed emails, which were sent to voters in states including Pennsylvania and Florida.
Asked about the emails during an online forum Wednesday, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said she lacked specific information. “I am aware that they were sent to voters in multiple swing states and we are working closely with the attorney general on these types of things and others,” she said.
While state-backed Russian hackers are known to have infiltrated US election infrastructure in 2016, there is no evidence that Iran has ever done so.
The voter intimidation operation apparently used email addresses obtained from state voter registration lists, which include party affiliation and home addresses and can include email addresses and phone numbers. Those addresses were then used in an apparently widespread targeted spamming operation. The senders claimed they would know which candidate the recipient was voting for in the Nov. 3 election, for which early voting is ongoing.
Federal officials have long warned about the possibility of this type of operation, as such registration lists are not difficult to obtain.
“These emails are meant to intimidate and undermine American voters’ confidence in our elections,” Christopher Krebs, the top election security official at the Department of Homeland Security, tweeted Tuesday night after reports of the emails first surfaced.