After UAE-Israel deal, is Bahrain the next Arab state to move toward peace?

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Bahrain was the first country to publicly welcome the new UAE-Israel peace deal, and phone calls between officials and comments from unnamed Israeli officials in Hebrew media have stirred speculation that Bahrain may be the second Gulf country to normalize relations with Israel.

Israel and the UAE reached a historic peace deal last week that will lead to a full normalization of diplomatic relations between the two Middle Eastern nations in an agreement that US President Donald Trump helped broker. Already some business and communication agreements have passed including collaboration on a coronavirus vaccine and restoration of phone lines between the two nations.

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“It looks like Bahrain and Israel could be moving in the same direction as the UAE and Israel,” Varsha Koduvayur, senior research analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told Al Arabiya English in an email exchange.

Following the news of the peace agreement, Bahrain was one of the first countries to congratulate the UAE, with a phone call between King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan taking place. Israel’s Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and Bahrain’s Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman al Khalifa also reportedly spoke in a phone call following news of the deal.

The new UAE-Israel peace deal, the Abraham Accord, is a watershed moment in the region and is only the third such agreement with Israel by an Arab nation, a first from a Gulf country, and the first since the mid-1990s.

Egypt and Jordan, which have previously signed peace deals with Israel welcomed the move.

In the US, White House senior adviser and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner said that he believed other Arab nations would soon follow.

“I do think that we have other countries that are very interested in moving forward,” Kushner told the American news outlet CNBC.

Tel Aviv City Hall is lit up with the flags of the United Arab Emirates and Israel as the countries announced they would be establishing full diplomatic ties, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. (AP)
Tel Aviv City Hall is lit up with the flags of the United Arab Emirates and Israel as the countries announced they would be establishing full diplomatic ties, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. (AP)

Israel has been vocal in its hope that other countries will follow suit.

“In the wake of this agreement will come additional agreements, both with more Gulf countries and with Muslim countries in Africa,” Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen told Israel-based radio station Army Radio, Reuters reported.

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In other Israeli media, one Hebrew outlet, the Kan channel, quoted an unnamed Israeli official as saying that Bahrain is expected to be the next country to normalize ties with Israel.

But Bahrain has so far been silent on whether or not it will take the step toward peace.

“There might need to be some more details or clarifications forthcoming on the contours of the UAE-Israel deal before Bahrain also formalizes ties,” Koduvayur said. “The question of whether the agreement stops or only suspends annexation remains as a difference in messaging between the US and Israel on one hand the Gulf states on the other.”

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Koduvayur said that Bahrain, however, has made several pro-Israel moves over the last few years, including sending a Bahraini delegation to Jerusalem in 2017. And, in 2019, a small Israeli delegation was present in Bahrain when the Trump administration rolled out its Peace to Prosperity plan for economic development.

“But with the UAE having blazed the trail, the political cost for Bahrain to normalize is lower, with the UAE deal giving other Gulf allies political cover,” Koduvayur concluded.

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