Alwaght- As the time goes by, new reports of unofficial and behind-the-scenes relations between Arab governments and the Israeli regime emerge, making it clear that some Arab governments are seriously considering diplomatic normalization with Tel Aviv. Al Khalifia monarchy in Bahrain is one of those who is going against the Arab world’s taboos.
Mounir Boshnaghi, the advisor to World Legacy Department at the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities, told The Bahraini daily Akhbar al-Khaleej that an Israeli delegation is set to visit Bahrain for the 42nd World Heritage Committee session scheduled to be held in the Bahraini capital between June 24 and July 4.
Bahrain is an Arab Muslim country that does not officially recognize the Israeli regime as a state. Attendance of an official Israeli delegation is not consistent with Bahrain regime’s official position on Tel Aviv. Perhaps it is because of this issue that the Bahraini officials tried to justify its presence, saying “An Israeli delegation will attend the meetings because this is an international meeting organized by UNESCO and Bahrain is just the host.”
He also noted that any member of the UN “has the right to participate, including Israel,” claiming that Bahrain would avoid politicizing the event.
Manama-Tel Aviv secret relations record
But the Israeli cultural delegation’s attendance is not the first case disclosing the fact that Bahrain and the Israeli regime have unofficial ties. One of the first Bahraini-Israeli contacts took place in September 1994, the year the then Israeli Environment Minister Yossi Sarid paid a visit to the tiny Persian Gulf Arab monarchy heading an of a high-ranking delegation. Since then, the two sides pursued their unofficial relations on the sly.
In 2000, Bahrain Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa met with the then Israeli Regional Cooperation Minister Shimon Peres at World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Shortly afterward, Manama lifted the ban on Israeli products. And in 2009, the then Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met with the Bahraini King Hamad bin Salman Al Khalifa in New York. This was just a short list of Al Khalifa rulers’ efforts to establish unofficial contacts to pave the way for diplomatic normalization.
In October 2013, Bahrain Foreign Ministry’s Undersecretary for Regional and Arab Affairs Hamad al-Amer asserted that his country could normalize its ties with Tel Aviv. In November of the same year, the Israeli goods began openly flowing into Bahrain.
In October 2014, the Israeli Haaretz newspaper in a note claimed that Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE have changed their view on the relations with Tel Aviv. Exactly a year later, the Sky News networks reported that Bahrain and some other Persian Gulf Arab states were in talks with the Tel Aviv to buy the Israeli-developed Iron Dome air defense systems. The report was never denied by any of the named states, signaling that the Arab leaders no longer cautiously hide their contacts with the Israelis from the public.
Since then, more news reports came out to inform of Israeli-Bahraini meeting and cooperation, with neither rejecting the links. The last one was a visit of a three-member Bahraini delegation to the occupied Palestinian territories. The delegation traveled after the American President Donald Trump’s recognition of Al-Quds (Jerusalem) as Israeli capital. The visit caused anger among the Palestinians who blasted the delegation upon its arrival at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Using culture to break taboos
The report by Akhbar al-Khaleej suggests that the Israeli delegation is visiting to participate in a cultural event hosted by the small island kingdom. In fact, the delegation is following cultural goals behind its traveling.
But this is not the first time, Manama leaders break the taboo of relations with Tel Aviv under the guise of culture. A large part of secret ties they established with the Israelis over the past decades has been wrapped with majorly cultural and non-political areas of cooperation.
Sarid’s visit announced to be non-political. Moreover, government representatives’ participation in an art show in Haifa, Israel Football Association’s delegation visit to Manama, and other exchanges of trips over the past years were veiled in cultural cover but they certainly do not take place without political backgrounds.
In the eyes of Bahraini leaders, taking a cultural road to normalization can cause less controversy. Still, 20 years of secrecy and decline to give publicity to ties with Tel Aviv signal that public backlash fears still pose a firm obstacle to normalization project.
Bahrain obeys Saudi Arabia
Bahrain is not the only Persian Gulf monarchy with unofficial links to Tel Aviv. These days, the Saudi-Israeli half-official-half-unofficial relations make regular headlines for regional and international media.
Up to last year, Anwar Ishki, former army general and current intelligence official of Saudi Arabia, was almost the only Saudi official known for setting up ties with the Israelis. But things changed this year as Israeli National Security Advisor revealed to have met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Prince Mohammed during his trip to New York two months ago met with Jewish organizations with strong links to the Israeli regime, such as AIPAC.
This makes Bahrain’s thaw efforts not a surprise as Manama rulers are apparent followers of Saudi foreign policy. Bahrain’s anti-Iranian stances as well as pro-Riyadh position in Yemen war bear witness to a full compliance with Saudi mindset.
Bahraini regime has two reasons to try to cozy up to the Israeli regime: To comply with the Saudi pro-normalization policy and to win Tel Aviv backing as a partial guarantee to its dictatorship despite popular opposition.
The West-backed kingdom has been hit by popular uprising since 2011. Manama has gone to great lengths to clamp down on any sign of dissent. On March 14, 2011, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were deployed to assist Bahrain in its crackdown.
Opposition movements have been outlawed and hundreds of dissidents have been imprisoned - with many stripped of their nationality.
It seems that Arab regimes have opted to court Israeli regime and its major Ally the US instead of supporting oppressed Palestinians in exchange for the formers' support to maintain their throne.