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.