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Series of National Interests and Fear of Iran - That's What Pushed Bahrain Into the Arms of Israel

© AFP 2021 / JOSEPH EID and JACK GUEZThis combination of pictures created on September 11, 2020 shows a Bahraini man waving a national flag (L) in the capital Manama on March 22, 2011, and an Israeli man holding his country's national flag on January 24, 2017
This combination of pictures created on September 11, 2020 shows a Bahraini man waving a national flag (L) in the capital Manama on March 22, 2011, and an Israeli man holding his country's national flag on January 24, 2017 - Sputnik International
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Slightly less than a month after the United Arab Emirates announced that they would normalise ties with Israel, there was another dramatic announcement, this time coming out of neighbouring Bahrain.

On Friday, US President Donald Trump announced that Bahrain had followed in the footsteps of the UAE and given a green light for the establishment of full diplomatic relations with Israel, with reports suggesting that Bahraini monarch Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa is expected to attend a ceremony at the White House slated for next Monday and will sign a peace pact with the Jewish state.

Hub of Tolerance

For Rabbi Marc Schneier, who has been advising the Bahraini king for more than a decade now, that decision was a natural move. 

"Out of all Gulf monarchs, the King of Bahrain has always been the most open about the establishment of ties with Israel", he said over the phone, suggesting that the step taken did not surprise many.

Over the years, Bahrain, which has a tiny Jewish community numbering less than a hundred people, has been regionally known as a hub of tolerance and as a country that had eyed ties with Israel as a definite possibility.

It was Bahrain that led other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council to designate Hezbollah, a bitter enemy of Israel, as a terror organisation in 2016; it was Bahrain that convinced the Arab League to follow suit and it was Manama that hosted the Peace to Prosperity summit that aimed at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and paving the way for the establishment of full diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.

National Interests Prevail

But now Bahraini tolerance has also met pragmatism and a series of national interests. 

"Bahrain is now going through significant economic changes and developments and they look at Israel as a country that can help them grow thanks to its hi-tech and technology", said Schneier.

However, Israel seems appealing for a different reason too - namely for protection against Iran.

Being a Shiite-majority country governed by a Sunni minority, Bahrain has always felt challenged by neighbouring Iran due to its influence over the country's Shiite population. 

This was the case in 2011, for example, when mainly Shiite protesters took to the streets across Bahrain to demand reforms and political rights. Those rallies were handled with an iron fist by the local authorities, to the disdain of the Islamic Republic, which saw the conduct as another sign of the repression of the country's Shiite community. 

"There is much uncertainty in regards to who will be the next US president, and that uncertainty led the Bahrainis to think that they cannot look at Washington as their defender, so they made that geopolitical shift and are now viewing Israel as a country that can potentially protect them".

That protection, however, doesn't boil down to military defence only. Just like the rest of the world, Bahrain is also coping with COVID-19 and although the situation there seems to be better than in Israel, Manama believes that joining efforts with the Jewish state in a bid to curb the disease is the right way forward.

However, for many Bahrainis, COVID-19, as well as other interests of the authorities, was not a reason good enough to normalise ties. 

Committed to the Palestinian cause?

For many, it was no more than a betrayal of the so-called Palestinian cause and some have even taken to Twitter to vent anger at the decision under the hashtag #BahrainisAgainstNormalisation, or #بحرينيون_ضد_التطبيع.

Schneier understands where this frustration is coming from and rushes to reassure that the Bahraini monarch has not moved an inch from his previous position on the Palestinian front.

"The King is committed to the Palestinian people and the two-state solution; and he wants to do everything in his power to bring that conflict to its resolution".

Ending a decade-old legal battle, a Manhattan jury ruled against the Palestinian Authority and Palestine Liberation Organization on Monday for its involvement in six suicide bombings. - Sputnik International
Palestinian Ambassador Recalled From Manama After Bahrain Agrees to Normalize Ties With Israel
The only problem is that Israel, which has now been getting recognition without making any concessions on the Palestinian front, might not want to sit down for talks with the PA, waiting for Iran and other regional factors to do the trick and push other countries into its arms.

But Schneier believes that approach won't hold water in the long-run and sees Bahrain as a country that could mediate a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

"You cannot simply ignore some five million Palestinians [living in the West Bank and Gaza] but to solve their problem you need mediators and I believe that Bahrain and the UAE can fill that role and bring Palestinians the economic hope and peace that they have been longing for".

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