Israel Defense Minister Benny Gantz lands in Bahrain for whirlwind visit

Gantz is expected to sign MOUs with the Persian Gulf Kingdom and meet with the king.

 Israel's Defense Minister Benny Gantz is seen arriving in Manama, Bahrain, for a visit, on February 2, 2022. (photo credit: ARIEL HERMONI/DEFENSE MINISTRY)
Israel's Defense Minister Benny Gantz is seen arriving in Manama, Bahrain, for a visit, on February 2, 2022.

MANAMA – Defense Minister Benny Gantz has landed in the Kingdom of Bahrain for a whirlwind 24-hour trip to sign the first memorandum of understanding (MoU) with a Gulf country.

He was welcomed at Bahrain International Airport by his Bahraini counterpart, Minister of Defense Affairs Lt.-Gen. Abdullah Bin Hassan Al Nuaimi.

Gantz is expected to sign the MoU with Al Nuaimi as well as the country’s chief of staff, Theyab bin Saqer Al Nuaimi.

The MoU will set a solid security cooperation framework that formalizes defense relations between the two countries, allowing for increased cooperation in various fields. It will include a number of arms agreements and other defense-related sales.

The Defense Ministry oversees all weapons exports from Israel.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz is seen landing in Manama, Bahrain, on February 2, 2022 (video credit: Elad Malka).

Gantz will also meet with King Hamad bin Isa bin Salman, Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa and Al Nuaimi.

The defense minister, who is also joined by the director of the Political-Military Bureau, Zohar Plati, will also visit the US Navy’s Fifth fleet, which is based in Bahrain. Gantz will meet its commander Brad Cooper, along with Israel Navy head Adm. David Saar Salame before returning to Israel late Thursday night.

Gantz flew to Manama over Saudi Arabia on an Israel Air Force Ra’am tanker aircraft, marking the first time that an IAF plane landed in the kingdom.

The plane had originally been in use by the Egyptian Air Force, and first landed in Israel in 1977 carrying Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who had come to begin the peace process with Israel.

Israel bought the plane in 2011 from a civilian company, and put it into service with the air force’s 120th Squadron.

The defense deals with Bahrain come as tensions remain high with Iran.

Plati said that coming to Bahrain “with the minister of defense on an IAF plane is history. We have not been to countries like this with an Israeli flag.”

While Bahrain is not as influential as other Gulf countries, Plati said that it was a “significant and courageous decision” to come.

“What is happening here is something of pride, and the public meetings with Jordan, Bahrain and Morocco on the security issue is unprecedented,” he said.

The visit also comes as the Israel Navy is taking part in a large-scale maritime drill led by US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) and the Fifth Fleet.

Known as the International Maritime Exercise (or “IMX”), more than 9,000 personnel and up to 50 ships from more than 60 militaries and international organizations will take part in the exercise that will focus on unmanned naval systems and the use of artificial intelligence.

Israel has taken part in several drills with CENTCOM and NAVENT forces and partner nations since it formally moved from US European Command (EUCOM) to CENTCOM in September.

The move to CENTCOM is believed to not only simplify the cooperation with American troops in the region, but to create the potential for a regional coalition with Arab countries that have normalized ties with Israel against shared threats posed by Iran like Bahrain.

According to Plati, the Americans have not reduced their forces in the region, despite focusing on countries like China and Russia.

“There are tens of thousands of American troops deployed to Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, with planes, THAAD and Patriot missile-defense batteries,” he said. “The US continues to be present and remains a significant and influential player in the region.”

Jerusalem and Manama signed normalization accords in September 2020 as part of the Abraham Accords.

This is Gantz’s first visit to the Kingdom. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was the first Israeli government official to visit, in September, to open the Israel Embassy.

Following the signing of the accords in 2020, Gantz spoke with his Bahraini counterpart, Abdullah bin Hassan Al Nuaimi, and invited him to Israel.

“The two discussed the importance of the Abraham Accords and of the growing normalization with Israel to regional stability in the Middle East, and talked about their mutual expectation that a close partnership would be established between the two defense ministries, which will contribute to both countries’ capabilities, and to maintaining regional security,” Gantz’s office said at the time.