A Bahraini military band played “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem, outside the royal palace in Manama as Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made history as the first Israeli leader to visit the Gulf state on Tuesday.
As expected, Iran was at the top of Bennett’s agenda.
Bennett was received by Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who is also the kingdom’s prime minister, ahead of a one-on-one meeting and a working lunch.
He also met with Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
“All responsible nations must make an effort to reach peace,” the crown prince said.
“I think that in order to see a broader Middle East free of conflicts, based on principles of mutual respect, understanding and shared responsibility for security, we must do more to get to know one another better and further establish the Abraham Accords, an important historic achievement,” he said.
Bennett said his visit was a great opportunity.
“I come from Israel with a spirit of goodwill, cooperation and standing together against shared challenges,” he said. “Our goal in this visit is to turn our peace from peace between governments to peace between peoples… We want to bring content, energy and vigor to our relations.”
Israel and other countries in the region should work together against their shared challenges, such as the Iranian threat, Bennett said earlier in an interview with the Bahraini paper Al-Ayam.
“Israel and Bahrain are dealing with major security challenges that stem from the same source, which is the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said. “Iran destabilizes the entire region.”
Iran’s support for terrorist proxies seeks to destroy moderate, stable countries and replace them with bloodthirsty terrorist organizations, Bennett said.
“We will not allow that,” he said. “We are fighting Iran and its henchmen in the region day and night, and we will help our friends in promoting peace, security and stability, whenever we are asked.”
Bennett extended that vision of cooperation against extremism and shared threats beyond Bahrain, saying that “in recent years, we have strengthened our military cooperation with countries in the region, whether Arab or non-Arab.”
“We all understand that we face the same challenges, so why not work together to tackle them?” he said. “Israel is a strong and reliable country.”
Regarding the nuclear talks between Iran and world powers, Bennett said reaching an agreement under the current terms would be “a strategic mistake.”
“This agreement will enable [Iran] to maintain its nuclear capabilities and to obtain hundreds of billions of dollars that will strengthen its terrorist machine, which harms many countries in the region and in the world,” he said.
At the same time, Bennett said US President Joe Biden was “a true friend of Israel for more than 50 years [who] fully understands what our security needs are.”
Asked whether the timing of Bennett’s visit was related to the Iran nuclear talks in Vienna, which seem to be reaching their conclusion, Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Alzayani told KAN News: “We are always looking forward to meeting with our friends to discuss various issues.”
“We are really happy to see this visit taking place,” he said on the way into his meeting with Bennett. “We look forward [to] fruitful discussions and good outcomes.”
Bennett met with US Fifth Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Brad Cooper on Tuesday morning, amid the IMX military exercise led by the fleet with the participation of the IDF and other armies.
Bennett praised the cooperation between the IDF and the US Army, saying the Fifth Fleet “is an important factor in maintaining regional stability in the face of security threats.”
Israel is working to increase military cooperation with its friends in the region to bolster security and stability, he told Al-Ayam.
Earlier this month, the Israel Navy announced it would have an officer permanently stationed in Bahrain to maintain communications with the fleet. It will be the first time an IDF officer will be stationed in an Arab state.
Bennett said he deeply appreciates King Hamad’s leadership and courage in joining the Abraham Accords, establishing official diplomatic relations with Israel.
Other matters on Bennett’s agenda in Manama include trade, health services and tourism.
“I expect that the volume of trade between us will increase significantly, as happened with the volume of trade between us and the Emirates,” he said. “I also expect that the volume of tourist traffic will also increase after the end of the corona pandemic, of course.”
“I look forward to the two peoples getting to know each other better by sending reciprocal missions, holding joint cultural events, holding religious meetings, and so on,” he added. “We want a very warm peace with Bahrain,”
Bennett also met with the president of the Jewish community in Bahrain, Abraham Nonoo, former Bahraini ambassador to the US Houda Nonoo and others from the community. He gave them a shofar as a gift for their synagogue.
“I couldn’t think of a better way to open my visit than to see my family here, the Jewish community,” he said.
Bennett said he brought goodwill and warm friendship from Israel.
“I am sure that you will be able to be an outstanding bridge between Bahrain and Israel,” he said. “I expect to have a successful way in which we strengthen the Abraham Accords and relations between our nations.”