LONDON: Bahrain agreed to step up cooperation with Israel on Tuesday, hosting a first visit by its leader Naftali Bennett.
The Israeli premier concluded a two-day visit to Manama, home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet and several international naval task forces, in a first by any Israeli leader following the 2020 normalization of bilateral relations.
Bennett held talks with King Hamad earlier on Tuesday to discuss strengthening strategic and security relations to address regional challenges, including nuclear threats, terrorist activity, religious extremism, poverty and social issues, Bahraini news agency BNA reported.
“The two sides also discussed at length ways to enhance civil, economic and commercial cooperation between the two countries to secure peace and achieve prosperity,” BNA said.
King Hamad said Bennett’s visit will be “fruitful and successful” due to his “determination and leadership toward an integrated joint effort” to achieve the best interests of both countries.
Bennett described his trip as a chance to forge a common stand against Iran and its allies including Yemen’s Houthis, whose attacks on the United Arab Emirates this year jarred the oil-producing region.
“We are trying to form a new regional architecture of moderate countries (to) provide stability, economic prosperity and to be able to stand strong against enemies who are fomenting chaos and terror,” Bennett told reporters.
The two countries agreed to expedite negotiations on investment protection agreements and jointly work to expedite a tax agreement that would provide the infrastructure to promote safe trade cooperation, a joint statement said.
They also agreed to support and encourage trade and mutual visits of senior officials, and deepen ties between their two peoples through cultural exchange and educational and academic cooperation.
The two governments agreed on a process of building a bilateral plan dubbed the “Warm Peace Strategy” that would prioritize several sectors including food security, water, sustainable energy, trade and investment.
Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa has accepted an invitation to visit Israel, the Gulf state’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani said, adding the trip should happen in “the near future.”
Bennett met with government ministers and members of Bahrain’s Jewish community on Tuesday. In a town hall with Bahraini civil servants and journalists, Bennett stressed the need to increase trade and other links.
“We don’t have enough trade, we don’t have enough tourism — and that is what this visit is all about,” Bennett said.
“I’m going to be your ambassador there (in Israel). I want to ‘sell Bahrain’,” he added.
Bennett also met with the US commander Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, the premier’s office said, stressing the fleet’s role in maintaining regional stability in the face of threats.
The US Navy is considering adding unmanned Israeli boats to its joint Middle East operations, a US official said earlier in the day, a move that could deepen Israel’s military involvement in the Gulf and further anger Tehran.
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Israel is due to become the 29th country to post an attache to the Fifth Fleet’s Manama headquarters, officials said, adding the as-yet unnamed envoy would likely be of navy captain or commander rank.
“It’s about keeping the lines of communication open” bilaterally between Israel and the fleet, a US official said, referring to the plan to station the envoy in the Gulf kingdom.
Israel has not formally confirmed the appointment.
Bennett told Cooper that he expected “the cooperation among the region’s countries and powerful ally the United States will keep getting closer,” the prime minister’s office said.
The US official said the Fifth Fleet was examining dozens of unmanned vessels as part of current Gulf exercises, and it was interested in Israeli-made surface drones as possible complements to flying and underwater drones.
“The Israelis are definitely vested in leveraging this technology,” the official said, adding that a fleet commander had in recent weeks visited Haifa in Israel to study the surface drones.
Bahrain and the UAE became only the third and fourth Arab states — following Egypt and Jordan — to establish ties with Israel in the pacts negotiated under then US president Donald Trump. Bennett visited the UAE in December.
(With Reuters and AFP)