Bahrain’s normalisation move driven by regional security concerns

One of Bahrain’s main considerations is Israeli efforts to contain the Iranian threat, which Manama considers paramount.

Friday 18/09/2020
Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa speaks next to US President Donald Trump, during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House,  September 15. (AP)
Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa speaks next to US President Donald Trump, during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, September 15. (AP)

DUBAI – Bahrain’s ruling family did not attend the signing ceremony of the Bahrain-Israel peace agreement on the White House lawn earlier this week.

However, the country did send its foreign minister to ink the historic accord, which Manama agreed to to advance its security and economic interests.

Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani was the one who signed the agreement in Washington, but the godfather of Bahrain’s effort to establish relations with Israel — largely in response to the growing Iranian threat — was former Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, who now serves as the diplomatic advisor to Bahraini King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa.

A 2019 file photo shows Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, attending the Arab Economic and Social Development Summit in Beirut, Lebanon. (AFP)
A 2019 file photo shows Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, attending the Arab Economic and Social Development Summit in Beirut, Lebanon. (AFP)

Bahraini Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa said the agreement to establish diplomatic relations with Israel is part of efforts to protect the country’s “supreme interests” as to “enhance the security of Bahrainis and the stability of their economy.”

He stressed that “a realistic vision of the regional scene makes us realise that we have been dealing with constant dangers throughout the past years (…) and it is not wise to see the danger and wait for it to hit us if this can be avoided in any way.”

Sheikh Rashid added that the agreement does not mean Manama has given up on the Palestinian cause, stressing that “if Palestine is our Arab cause, then Bahrain is our fateful cause.”

Manama’s decision to normalise ties with Tel Aviv was neither a gratuitous move nor a response to US pressure, as its opponents have claimed. Rather, it was prompted by national security considerations, according to the interior minister, who does not usually weigh in on diplomatic issues.

The interior minister’s remarks highlight how the Bahraini state and royal family believe security issues are central to ensuring a balance of power in the region.

One of Bahrain’s main considerations is Israeli efforts to contain the Iranian threat, which Manama considers paramount.

Soon after the normalisation agreement, Iran-affiliated groups expressed their intent to target Israelis in Bahrain.

On Wednesday, an Iran-backed group calling itself “Saraya Wa’ad Allah” issued a statement announcing the formation of a cell to target Israeli presence in Bahrain. The move reflects Iran’s grave concern over the security implications of the agreement that was signed Tuesday between Bahrain and Israel.

Observers say Tehran is disturbed by Bahraini-Israeli security coordination, which could impede its activities in Bahrain. The Israeli-Bahraini coordination could also expose details of Tehran’s support, financing and training for groups that have worked to harm Gulf security under the pretext of being opposition or revolutionary groups or popular protest movements.

A Bahraini political source told The Arab Weekly that Arab Gulf states have the tools needed to confront Iranian expansion in the region, but must take a unified, bold position against Tehran and follow through with the political will that meets the moment.

Iran’s media machine attempted to distort the Bahrain-Israel accord, using loose headlines claiming Manama had betrayed the Palestinian cause, even as many observers note that Iran itself has done nothing to help Palestinians. They say that Tehran has repeatedly issued empty promises and meaningless slogans on Palestine to score political goals, while at the same time keeping its guns directed at Arabs in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain.

A road is decorated with the flags of (L-R) the US, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Bahrain, in the resort city of Netanya in central Israel, on September 13. (AFP)
A road is decorated with the flags of (L-R) the US, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Bahrain, in the resort city of Netanya in central Israel, on September 13. (AFP)

Iran’s foreign ministry said that “the rulers of Bahrain will from now on become partners in the crimes of the Zionist regime as it is a permanent threat to the security of the region and the entire Islamic world.” It added that their agreement “is a shameful act by Bahrain, sacrificing the Palestinian cause and decades of struggle and suffering for the Palestinian people on the altar of the US presidential elections.”

The normalisation of relations between Israel and the United States’ allies in the Middle East, including major Gulf states Bahrain and the UAE, is a significant part of US President Donald Trump’s regional strategy to contain Tehran.

Relations between Washington and Tehran have been strained since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, and were completely cut off a year later.

Tensions have grown after Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions on Tehran.