Following the example of the UAE, on Friday, September 11, 2020, as expected by many Middle East specialists, Bahrain concluded a deal with Israel, under the auspices of the US. This agreement comes only after one month since the deal concluded with the UAE (August 13th), however, met with much more criticism than the previous one. As such, Bahrain joins the group of Arab Gulf countries having an agreement with Israel.
The announcement (made on Twitter by the US president Trump) of the established diplomatic relations came after the US president hosted a phone call between the leaders of the two concerned countries.
In an attempt to justify his country’s deal with Israel, the Bahraini Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, emphasized the importance of “the historic step taken by His Majesty Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa towards achieving peace in the Middle East, following the prominent efforts of US President Donald Trump to reach the declaration of peace with Israel”. Also, Dr. Al Zayani said that Bahrain stressed the need to reach a just and comprehensive peace solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to international legitimacy resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative, in a manner that preserves the rights of the Palestinian people, thus completely supporting the cause of Palestinians.
The minister added that the Bahrain-Israel peace deal achieves the goals of the Arab Peace Initiative that will help promote security and stability in the region, emphasizing as well the importance of the peace agreement to be signed by the UAE and Israel on September 15th, which contributed in stopping the annexation of Palestinian lands in a step that boosts the chances for a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.
While some analysts expected Saudi Arabia to be the next Arab nation to normalize relations with Jerusalem, there were already some signals that Bahrain would be the next nation to establish relations after the country opened its airspace to Israeli flights.
According to various experts, the normalization of relations between Bahrain and Israel can be seen as a positive development and also a development that adds another layer of complexity to Middle East geopolitics.
Digging deeper to see what’s really behind the normalization of relations between Arab nations and Israel, Oilprice.com’s Simon Watkins quoted a source as saying that “This formal deal, though, just officially clarifies what has been happening for some time between Israel and the UAE in the field of intelligence co-operation to counteract Iran’s growing power in the region that has become more militaristic, given the increasing dominance of the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps] in Tehran”.
On the other hand, lately, Iran has been taking its own measures to guarantee its safety and recently announced more military and intelligence co-operation with both Russia and China.
Following the present agreement, Bahrain will become the fourth Arab country (after Egypt – 1979, Jordan – 1994 and the UAE) to establish full diplomatic ties with Israel, while Oman and Sudan are believed to be soon doing the same. “We confirm that this step is in the interest of regional security, stability, and prosperity. It is in harmony with the true Bahraini approach, our long history of promoting openness and coexistence with all, and Bahrain’s social cohesion between different races and religions,” the parliament said in a statement carried by the country’s state news service.
Bahrain will join Israel and the UAE for a signing ceremony at the White House hosted by Trump on September 15th. The Israel – UAE ceremony will be attended by Netanyahu and Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Bahrain’s opposition reacted to the deal; the regime being widely contested already. “The Bahraini decision to normalize with the Zionist enemy is illegitimate from both sides – because the Bahraini government does not possess the legitimacy to normalize, and because the Zionist entity is itself illegitimate,” al-Wefaq, once Bahrain’s largest official political party, said in a statement. Al-Wefaq, whose constituency is largely composed of Shi’ite Bahrainis, controlled 18 out of 40 seats in Bahrain’s parliament before the Arab Spring. The government dissolved the party in 2016, forcing many of its leaders into exile. While Shiites make up around 70 percent of the kingdom’s Muslim residents, the ruling monarchy is Sunni and enjoys close ties with many of the region’s other Sunni states. The ruling elites are firmly allied with Saudi Arabia in its rivalry with Shiite Iran, even as Bahrain’s Shiites have familial, linguistic, and political ties with Tehran going back decades.
“Bahrainis see Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Palestine. Those who normalize are traitors…the Bahraini government does not reflect popular opinion,” said Baqer Darwish, who directs the Bahrain Forum for Human Rights.
Opposition groups in Bahrain also condemned the UAE’s decision to normalize relations with Israel when it was announced last month. Eight “political societies,” which serve as de facto political parties in Bahrain, signed a statement demanding that the Bahraini government condemn the UAE normalization deal, officially known as the Abraham Accords. The parties ranged from leftists to al-Wefaq, to the Bahrain branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. “The societies that signed this statement reject all forms of normalization with the Zionist entity and demand that the government of Bahrain declare its rejection of these attempts in line with the popular position,” they wrote in a joint statement.
Unlike the UAE, Bahrain has a long history of political mobilization. For years, independent media, human rights groups, and opposition political parties were given limited freedom to dissent, provided they avoided crossing certain red lines.
Many of these groups – which included Islamists, Ba’athists, and secularists – joined a revolutionary coalition during the Arab Spring which sought to overthrow Bahrain’s monarchical government. After weeks of demonstrations, a Saudi-led military intervention crushed the uprising.
Disapproving of the recent deal, Jordan announced Saturday that necessary steps to achieve a fair peace should come from Israel after Bahrain and Israel announced a normalization deal. Also, Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said Israel should stop procedures to undermine the two-state solution and end its illegal occupation of Palestinian lands.
Moreover, senior Palestinian official, Saeb Erekat said that “the Bahrain-Israeli agreement to normalize relations is now part of a bigger package in the region. It’s not about peace, it’s not about relations between countries. We are witnessing an alliance, a military alliance being created in the region, maybe they want to call it an Arab-Israel NATO. As far as we, as far as Palestinians are concerned, big Israel can bring 193 ambassadors to Tel Aviv, but then what? I am what needs to be solved, I am the problem. They are my problem. I am what needs to be solved and the only way to have peace in this region is to solve the Palestinian question.”
Israeli analysts said that Bahrain is close to Saudi Arabia, and the deal could only have been reached with tacit Saudi approval. They also believe it is only a matter of time before the Saudi kingdom itself makes peace with Israel.
Bahrain’s political agenda is “pretty much dictated by Saudi Arabia”, according to Marwa Fatafta, a policy member with the Palestinian policy network Al-Shabaka. Besides being “financially dependent on its neighbors”, Bahrain’s new alliance with Israel may help it entrench its power and “crush any resistance to authoritarianism or efforts towards freedom and democracy”, Fatafta added.
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad resistance movement has strongly denounced the Israel – Bahrain normalization deal, stating that the agreement exhibits the Manama regime’s capitulation to Washington. “The agreement reflects the US custody of Bahrain. The Bahraini monarch [King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa] and his government act upon US instructions and orders,” Dawood Shihab, a spokesman for the movement, said in an interview with Lebanon-based and Arabic-language al-Mayadeen television news network on Friday night. He described the deal as “a new and expected political downfall,” after the Arab League dropped a draft Palestinian resolution condemning the agreement between the UAE and Israel to establish full diplomatic ties, and became a sponsor of departure from Arab consensus.
Munir al-Jaghoub, who heads Fatah’s Information Department in the Office of Mobilization and Organization, also slammed Friday’s normalization deal between Israel and Bahrain, lambasting Arab rulers for having attached their continued grip on power to the US administration. “Trump announces a peace agreement between Israel and Bahrain! If Trump asked some Arab rulers to take off their clothes and walk naked in the streets of Tel Aviv, they would agree to do so in the hope that he would be the winner of the upcoming US presidential election. They [Arab rulers] have linked their continued rule to the administration, which wreaks havoc on the earth,” the Palestinian official wrote on his Twitter page.
Moreover, the February 14 Youth Coalition, named after the date of the beginning of the popular uprising against the ruling Bahraini regime, censored the normalization deal between Manama and Tel Aviv regime as a major betrayal. The coalition denounced in a statement the “despicable and provocative” step by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa as free service to his American master Donald Trump. “We express our strong rejection and condemnation of the trilateral agreement among the United States, Bahrain and Israel. We hold King Hamad responsible for the consequences of this unwise decision,” it read. “We assure the Palestinian nation and the rest of the free Arab world that Bahraini people are blameless for this normalization and betrayal. This announcement represents no one other than the despotic Al Khalifa regime, who declared a war on all Muslim and Arab values and principles, and sold their values, honor, and the Palestinian cause to Trump and Netanyahu in order to remain in power,” the statement pointed out.
Separately, Yemen’s popular Houthi Ansarullah movement condemned the leaders of some Arab countries over attempts to normalize diplomatic relations with the Israeli regime, stressing that the monarchs do not represent their nations and will one day pay a hefty price for their betrayal of the Palestinian cause. “The Palestinian cause has distanced itself from the burden of regimes, which used to secretly stab it through treachery and now are doing it conspicuously,” it said in a statement on Friday.
Amnesty International highlighted that no diplomatic agreement could change the legal duties of Israel as an occupying power, in reference to the normalization agreement. In a post published on its Twitter page, it said that “Any process aimed at a just and lasting resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must constitute the removal of illegal Israeli settlements”. The peace process should also include “putting an end to the systematic violations of human rights, and ensure justice and compensation for victims of crimes under international law,” it added. “No diplomatic agreement can change the legal duties of Israel as an occupying power under international humanitarian principles, nor can it deprive Palestinians of their rights and protection by international law,” Amnesty International pointed out.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said in a statement Saturday that Bahrain was now a partner to what it called the “crimes of Israel,” which it added were “a constant threat to the security of the region and the Islamic world”. Also, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently blasted the UAE, which signed its own peace deal with Israel several weeks ago, saying it had “betrayed” the Muslim world.
A number of Algerian political parties and civil society groups condemned the agreement, calling it a “betrayal” of the Palestinian cause.