Bahrain delegation visits Israel on first Gulf Air flight

FILE PHOTO: The flags of Israel and Bahrain flutter along a road in Netanya, Israel September 14, 2020. REUTERS/Nir Elias/File Photo

JERUSALEM/DUBAI (Reuters) – Bahrain sent its first official government delegation to Israel on Wednesday as the two countries look to broaden cooperation that Washington has promoted as an anti-Iran alliance and potential economic bonanza.

Bahrain’s foreign minister, Abdullatif al-Zayani headed the delegation aboard Gulf Air flight GF972 – a reference to Israel’s telephone country code – on the airline’s first commercial flight to Tel Aviv.

Zayani was due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Jerusalem.

“This visit will help launch many cooperation initiatives in various fields and is a starting point for future visits,” Zayani said on landing in Israel, according to a statement from Bahrain’s foreign ministry.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry director general Alon Ushpiz told Israeli Army Radio that the officials would continue work on memoranda of understanding signed in October in Manama covering air travel, visa accommodations and the opening of embassies.

Leading the U.S. delegates, President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy, Avi Berkowitz, was also on the flight which flew over Saudi Arabia, an accommodation by the Gulf’s powerhouse, which has so far resisted U.S. appeals to normalise ties with Israel.

Since September, the Trump administration has brokered agreements with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan toward normalising their relations with Israel in a strategic realignment against Iran.

The shift has enraged the Palestinians who have demanded statehood before any such regional rapprochement.

Although White House officials have said more countries are considering normalising ties with Israel, further developments appear unlikely before U.S. President-elect Joe Biden takes office and establishes his administration’s policy on Iran.

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