Years of secret ties with Bahrain now in the open

Following arrival of first-ever Bahraini delegation to Israel, Arutz Sheva speaks with the head of the Middle East Bureau, Eliav Benjamin.

Yoni Kempinski ,

Eliav Benjamin
Eliav Benjamin
Arutz Sheva

On Wednesday morning, the first-ever Bahraini delegation to Israel arrived at Ben Gurion airport, on a direct flight (also a first-ever) by Bahrain state-operated airline Gulf Air.

The delegation was headed by Bahrain’s Foreign Minister, and members later met with senior Israeli officials including the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Gabi Ashkenazi, as well as with U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, during his visit to Israel.

Arutz Sheva spoke with Eliav Benjamin, head of the Middle East Bureau at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to find out more about this historic visit and what it means for Israel and the wider region.

“This was a historic visit in several ways,” Benjamin says. “It wasn’t just the first official visit from Bahrain – it was the first visit of any Bahraini to Israel.”

All the same, Benjamin notes that the historic nature of the visit was not so much that Israel and Bahrain are now developing ties, but rather that these ties are now in the open.

“The truth is that the Foreign Ministry has been handling relations with Bahrain for quite a number of years already,” he relates. “The key difference now is that it’s all out in the open. And that itself makes it so much easier to talk more freely on all kinds of collaborative projects – cultural projects, economic cooperation, and so forth.”

Asked whether one of the focal points of the blossoming Israel-Bahraini relationship is the threat from Iran, Benjamin downplays the issue. “It’s true that Iran is a direct threat to Bahrain, being that they are literally next-door to one another, but Iran is also a regional threat, not just a localized one. Of course we want to examine ways of dealing with this threat together, but I want to stress that the main point of developing ties with Bahrain is not outward but inward – the ties between the two countries, not ways in which we work together to deal with outside issues.”

On a more personal note, Benjamin describes his emotion at watching the Gulf Air plane touch down at Ben Gurion airport, in a sense the culmination of years of “under-the-radar” efforts to build bridges between the two nations.

“One of the members of the Bahraini delegation is the country’s former ambassador to Washington – and she’s Jewish,” he relates. “This was her first-ever visit to Israel, and I can imagine that it was extremely emotional for her.”

As to what happens next, Benjamin is hugely optimistic. “Really, the sky’s the limit,” he says.