2021 Panorama: Unabated Normalization with Israel, 25 Bahraini Normalization Steps

2023-10-06 - 10:13 p

Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): Despite Bahrain's announcement of normalizing relations with Israel in 2020, the normalization steps taken in 2021 were numerous, totaling approximately 25 normalization steps. Not a month passed without Bahrain taking new normalization measures with the Israeli entity, accumulating around 25 normalization steps throughout the year.

Unignorable; however, is the widespread public rejection and discontent accompanying each normalization step. This sentiment was expressed through online campaigns, statements from religious and political figures, and protest marches that swept through Bahraini villages and regions throughout the year.

The Bahraini government commenced the year by receiving the Acting Israeli Ambassador Itay Tagner on January 13. He was welcomed by the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abdullah bin Ahmed Al Khalifa. This event sparked widespread protests and demonstrations on January 16, following Friday prayers.

In the final days of his term (January 16), the outgoing Trump administration classified the UAE and Bahrain as major security partners, just four days before Trump left the White House, rewarding both countries for normalizing relations with Israel.

In early February, Bahrain officially began issuing trade licenses to Israeli companies. On February 4, the Ministry of Commerce granted a commercial license to the Israeli company, Iscar Ltd, to operate in Bahrain.

On March 1, Bahrain officially initiated postal exchanges with the Israeli entity. Later in the month, it entered into medical cooperation with Israel through Salmaniya Hospital in Bahrain and the Israeli Sheba Medical Center.

Bahrain entered a new phase of normalization by covering up the occupation's crimes in Palestine. It abstained from voting on a resolution in a Human Rights Council meeting calling for a ban on arms sales to Israel and holding it accountable for human rights violations against Palestinians.

In March, Bahrain also witnessed the inauguration of the official account of the Israeli embassy in the country. Additionally, King Hamad appointed Khaled Yousif Al Jalahma as Bahrain's ambassador to Tel Aviv.

In early April, enraged marches traversed the streets of Bahraini towns and villages, burning an image of Al Jalahma, the first Bahraini ambassador to Israel.

On April 25th, Bahrain announced mutual recognition of COVID-19 vaccination programs with the Israeli entity to facilitate travel between the two countries.

In early May, the American Axios website revealed that Bahrain became a member of a foundation initiated by Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of the former U.S. president (Donald Trump), to promote normalization with Israel. The former Bahraini ambassador to the United States, Houda Nonoo, disclosed that Kushner had gifted Bahrain's king five Torah scrolls to be transferred to a Jewish synagogue in Manama. In response, Ibrahim Dawood Nonoo, the head of the Jewish community in Bahrain, commented that all they lacked now was a rabbi.

The spiritual leader of the Shiite community in Bahrain, Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim, criticized the government's enthusiastic efforts to establish "broad Zionist presence in the Gulf."

In the first week of May, the head of the Israeli Mossad, Yossi Cohen, visited Bahrain in his second official visit (the first being on September 30, 2020, just two weeks after the announced normalization). He met, according to a statement by the Bahrain News Agency, with the Chief of the National Intelligence Agency Adel Khalifa Al-Fadhel and the head of the Strategic Security Agency Ahmed bin Abdulaziz Al Khalifa.

During May, the situation in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Al-Quds, and the "Sword of Al-Quds" battle in Gaza unfolded. These events received broad popular support in Bahrain. On the official side, there was support for Israel, represented by the participation of the President of the Board of Trustees of the King Hamad Global Center for Peaceful Coexistence and member of the ruling family, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa (May 3), in a seminar alongside the Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, discussing the "escalation of hostility towards Israel."

After Trump's loss in the U.S. elections, Benjamin Netanyahu also lost his position as head of the Israeli government. However, Bahrain directly communicated with the new government led by Naftali Bennett, as reported by Reuters.

On June 24, Israeli media reported on the Israeli government's efforts to deepen its relations with the UAE and Bahrain. On June 26, the former Bahraini ambassador to the United States, Houda Nonoo, announced preparations for a visit by a delegation from the Torah organization, concerned with Jewish heritage, to Bahrain.

On June 28, Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdul Latif Al Zayani met his Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid on the sidelines of a ministerial meeting in the Italian capital, Rome, and congratulated him on his appointment.

On July 19, The Guardian newspaper revealed that an Israeli company was monitoring the phones of more than 180 journalists and activists worldwide, including Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Among these individuals was the human rights activist Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei.

In early August, Israelis acquired Bahrain Financing Company (BFC) through a UAE-Israeli alliance via a newly established commercial entity called Wizz Financial.

On August 8th, Bahraini Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Abdullah Al Khalifa traveled to Tel Aviv to meet with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. During the visit, preparations were announced for a grand celebration marking one year since the signing of the normalization agreement.

Al Khalifa signed a cooperation agreement with an Israeli think tank focusing on "Countering Iran in the War of Ideas." Former Palestinian Minister Ashraf Al-Ajrami described the agreement as, in fact, an "intelligence memorandum" turning Bahrain into an advanced base for spying on Iran.

On August 10th, Bahraini Ambassador to the United States, Abdullah bin Rashid Al Khalifa, stated in an interview with an Israeli newspaper regarding the recent war in Gaza, describing the Palestinians as "terrorists." This marked the first public statement fully endorsing the Israeli position against the Palestinian people.

In mid-August, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid visited Morocco and announced from there that Israel would open its diplomatic mission in Bahrain within a month.

The issue of Israeli surveillance of Bahraini activists continued to unfold. "Citizen Lab" issued a report stating that Bahrain spied on nine dissidents using Israeli software. Activist Ali Abdul-Imam, specializing in technical matters, revealed that Israel now possessed a copy of the victims' information.

On September 2nd, Israel appointed Eitan Na'eh as its ambassador to Bahrain. On September 18th, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced an upcoming visit to Bahrain. A BBC report revealed that the trade exchange between Bahrain and the occupying entity reached $300,000 in the first year of normalization.

On September 27th, Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdul Latif Al Zayani met with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in New York to discuss security and political cooperation. On September 30th, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid visited Bahrain to open the entity's embassy. King Hamad received him at the Safriya Palace amid protests that swept most areas of Bahrain, condemning the visit.

Iran criticized the visit, considering it a "stigma that will not be erased from the foreheads of Bahrain's rulers." Statements were issued by Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim and the prominent religious scholars of Bahrain (Sayed Abdullah Al-Ghuraifi, Sheikh Mohammad Saleh Al-Rabie'i, Sheikh Mohammad Sanqour, Sheikh Mahmoud Al-'Aali, and Sheikh Ali Al-Sedadi), in addition to 240 Shia religious figures denouncing the visit, while there was an absence of any official positions from Sunni religious leaders. Yusuf Al-Khaja, a leader in Wa'ad Society, criticized this, calling on Sunni leaders to speak out against normalization.

It was reported that Lapid discussed security issues, including confronting Iranian marches, with the King. Bahrain's E-Government Authority head revealed that Israel was granted sovereignty over information on cloud computing centers in Bahrain.

On October 28th, an Israeli company announced job vacancies in the field of information technology in Bahrain.

On October 29th, Bahrain's Ministry of Interior prevented an event in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners organized by the Bahraini Society Against Normalization. Crown Prince Salman expressed his intention to meet the Israeli Prime Minister soon.

On November 14th, Bahrain participated in a U.S. military exercise alongside Israel and the UAE in the Red Sea. On November 2nd, the anniversary of the infamous Balfour Declaration, Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad met the Israeli Prime Minister on the sidelines of the climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland.

On November 20th, Bahrain hosted Israeli National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata to participate in the "Manama Dialogue." Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad met with Hulata to discuss regional developments in the presence of security and military leaders.

On November 26th, Acting Israeli Ambassador stated that relations with Manama are "part of Bahrain's security strategy." On December 17th, King Hamad received phone calls from Israeli President Isaac Herzog to congratulate him on the National Day. Social media photos showed an Israeli delegation in Bahrain visiting Al-Fateh Mosque, the largest Sunni mosque in Bahrain, taking commemorative photos.

By the end of the year, King Hamad of Bahrain welcomed Eitan Na'eh and received his credentials as the first ambassador of the entity in Bahrain. The ceremony on December 29th was attended by the sons of King Abdullah and Nasser, along with the Minister of the Royal Court Khalid bin Ahmed, Foreign Minister Abdul Latif Al Zayani, and the Chief of Royal Protocol, Khalifa Al Fadala.

Bahrain solidified its relations continuously with the Israeli entity, ranging from mail exchange and adopting COVID-19 vaccines to participating in military exercises with Israel, and appointing and exchanging ambassadors.

These steps are likely to continue, indicating that Bahrain (and the UAE as well) seeks a security and military partner in the region to fill any potential American vacuum in the future. The continuous signing of agreements and the relentless strengthening of ties with the entity serve as clear evidence of this trend.

Arabic Version