MANAMA: Israeli President Isaac Herzog visited Bahrain on Sunday on the first trip by an Israeli head of state to the Gulf kingdom, following the normalisation of relations in 2020.

Herzog, whose role is largely ceremonial, met King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa and Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa. They discussed issues including regional security and “ways to encourage communication between the representatives of the private sector in the two countries”, the official Bahrain News Agency (BNA) said.

Herzog said on Sunday he would follow his stop in Bahrain with a visit to the UAE capital Abu Dhabi.

In 2020, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco became the first Arab states in decades to normalise relations with Israel, following negotiations spearheaded by the administration of former US president Donald Trump.

Israeli president to visit Abu Dhabi as well

The Jewish state had earlier reached peace treaties with neighbouring Egypt and Jordan. “I call on more states in our region to join this partnership, strengthening the Middle East,” Herzog said Sunday.

“The expanding circle of peace is highly important, especially amid threats to global and regional stability. In the face of hate, threats and terror, there is one answer: alliances with friends.”

Other countries in the region, notably Saudi Arabia, have repeatedly said they would stick to the decades-old Arab League position of not establishing official ties with Israel until the conflict with the Palestinians is resolved.

King Hamad said Bahrain supports “achieving a just, comprehensive and sustainable peace that guarantees the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and that will lead to stability, development and prosperity for both the Palestinian and Israeli peoples, as well as all peoples of the region,” BNA said.

Herzog said on Twitter he welcomed King Hamad’s “vision of peace, friendship and tolerance”.

“My visit underscores the importance Israel attaches to relations with Bahrain, including partnerships on defence, trade, tourism and environment,” he said.

Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid, then Israel’s top diplomat, visited Bahrain in September last year to open the Israeli embassy there.

In February, Israel signed a defence agreement with Bahrain, and Naftali Bennett became the first Israeli premier to visit the country.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2022

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