Israel is currently in the late stages of forging diplomatic relations with the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain, media reports revealed Sunday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted at the process on Sunday in a surprise announcement he made during his historic meeting with the visiting president of Muslim-majority Chad, Idriss Déby.
“Very soon, we will be holding visits in other Muslim countries,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu and his ministers have visited a number of Persian Gulf states in recent weeks. Although he did not specify his next planned Arab destination, local media said Israel was already talking to Bahrain about establishing official ties, making it a likely port of call.
Meanwhile, Israeli Economy Minister Eli Cohen said Monday that he had been invited to attend a conference next year in Bahrain.
Cohen told Army Radio the invitation was to a conference in the first quarter of 2019 “in the realm of technology and high-tech, in which the State of Israel is certainly a leader.” He did not say whether he planned to attend.
Asked to elaborate, an Israeli official familiar with Cohen’s affairs said the event to which he had been invited was the Startup Nations Ministerial conference on April 15, a forum for public policymakers to discuss how to promote entrepreneurs.
The official, who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the matter, said the invitation originated with the Manama government and was relayed to Israel by Switzerland.
For some time now, Bahrain has taken a relatively friendly stance toward Israel. Last month, Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, a member of the royal family and also of the island country’s Sunni minority, came out in support of Israel and strongly criticized Iran.
In May, the sheikh backed Israel’s right to self-defense and said that “as long as Iran has breached the status quo in the region and invaded countries with its forces and missiles, any state in the region, including Israel, is entitled to defend itself by destroying sources of danger.”
Bahrain shares Israel’s animosity toward Iran, and is an active member of the Sunni coalition against Iran in the Arab world. Its forces are currently fighting alongside the Saudis in the civil war in Yemen.
On Saturday, Bahrainis voted in a parliamentary election from which opposition groups were barred, amid a crackdown on dissent. Activists had called for a boycott of the vote, describing it as a “farce.” The government said the election is “democratic” and put voter turnout at 67%.
The Sunni ruling Al Khalifa family has kept a lid on dissent since the Shiite opposition staged a failed uprising in 2011. Saudi Arabia sent in troops to help crush that unrest in a mark of concern that any power-sharing concession by Bahrain could inspire Saudi Arabia’s own Shiite minority to rebel.