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Israel PM meets Bahrain crown prince in push to tighten ties By Ilan Ben Zion

In recent months, as tensions with Iran have soared, the two countries have intensified military cooperation.

By: AP | Manama |
February 15, 2022 9:16:30 pm
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett with Crown Prince and Prime Minister of Bahrain. (Twitter/@naftalibennett)

Israel’s prime minister met with Bahrain’s crown prince on Tuesday as the new allies sought to nurture closer cooperation and present a united front to their shared nemesis Iran.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was making a one-day visit to the Gulf island kingdom, the first by an Israeli leader, less than two years after the countries established formal diplomatic relations as part of the US-brokered “Abraham Accords.” Bennett was greeted by Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, who also serves as the kingdom’s prime minister, and a military colour guard at Manama’s Gudaibiya Palace.

He told the crown prince that he came “with a spirit of goodwill, of cooperation, of standing together against mutual challenges.” Bennett also met with several government ministers and discussed the need for greater economic cooperation.

“We must do more to get to know one another and build upon the Abraham Accords, which have been such a historic agreement,” the crown prince said.

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In recent months, as tensions with Iran have soared, the two countries have intensified military cooperation. Early this month, they signed a defense pact, and last week, Bahrain announced that an Israeli naval officer would be stationed in Manama, which is also home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet.

The Israeli military confirmed it will have a naval representative attached to the 5th fleet. Bennett met with the fleet commander, Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, during his stop in Manama.

Bennett’s office said the fleet “is a significant element in maintaining regional stability in the face of various security threats.” It did not mention Iran specifically. But Israel has made no secret of its concerns about Iranian naval activities across the region.

Israel has stepped up its naval presence in the Red Sea after a series of attacks on commercial ships with links to Israel, which it blamed on Iran.

Earlier this month Israeli ships took part in a massive naval exercise in the Gulf, which included ships from Oman and Saudi Arabia, with whom Israel does not have formal diplomatic ties. Israeli warships also participated in US-led naval drills with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in the Red Sea in November.

Israel and Bahrain established formal diplomatic ties after years of clandestine security cooperation over their shared enmity of Bahrain’s neighbour, Iran. Israel and Bahrain have exchanged ambassadors and signed trade and defense agreements since they signed a normalisation agreement on the White House lawn, alongside the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Morocco, in September 2020.

Bennett’s visit came as negotiations between world powers and Iran to reach an international agreement to curb Tehran’s nuclear program continued in Vienna.

Israel has said it would not be bound by any such agreement and that it would take whatever action necessary, including a military strike, to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear arms. Iran insists its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.

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