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Bahrains King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa (R) speaks to British Prime Minister Theresa May (L) during the first Gulf Cooporative Councils (GCC) " GCC British Summit", in Sakhir Palace Bahrain, December 7, 2016..(Photo by: HAMAD I MOHAMMED / REUTERS)
Israel downplays reports of possible breakthrough in Israel-Bahrain ties
Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi 'not aware' of any concrete steps in the direction.
Amid yet another report hinting at the possibility of the establishment of ties between Israel and Bahrain, Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday that he was “not aware” or any concrete moves in that direction.

Hanegbi’s comment came in response to an i24NEWS report quoting an unnamed Bahraini official as saying that his country will be the first Gulf state to establish ties with Israel.

“Bahrain does not view Israel as an enemy,” the official was quoted as saying, adding that a rapprochement between the two countries “will not contradict the principles of Bahrain.”

“I am not aware of it,” Hanegbi said in response. “I would be very happy if it happens, but it is unlikely to happen very soon.”

At the same time, Hanegbi said that the Bahrainis “do express themselves in a very positive way,” referring specifically to a comment last month by Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al Khalifa after Israel attacked Iranian positions in Syria. In a Twitter post, the foreign minister said that “Israel is entitled to defend itself.”

“Altogether these are good indications,” Hanegbi said, “but I am not aware of any specific breakthrough.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said repeatedly that the common threat of Iran has led to an unprecedented level of cooperation – albeit under the radar screen – between Israel and the Persian Gulf states.

The i24NEWS report is the latest in a drumbeat of reports over the last few months of the imminent establishment of ties. It comes on the eve of a visit by an Israeli delegation to Bahrain next week to take part in a meeting of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee.

This will not be the first official delegation to visit Bahrain, as a three-man delegation from the Israeli Football Association took part in a FIFA conference held in the Bahrani capital Manama last year. And just last month a Bahrain-UAE team took part – despite Palestinian protests – in the Giro d’Italia bicycle race held in Israel.

In September, a news portal called the Middle East Eye, reportedly supported by Qatar, cited a diplomatic source as saying that an official announcement of Bahrain normalizing ties with Israel could be made “next year.”

A Foreign Ministry source downplayed the significance of the delegation taking part in the UNESCO meetings, saying that it is standard procedure that Israeli delegations take part in official UN-sponsored meeting even in countries where there are no diplomatic ties. For instance, an Israeli delegation took part in a UN Human Settlements Program (UN-Habitat) conference in Malaysia in February.
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