As a latest sign of growing regional ties between Israel and Arab States, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to visit Bahrain "soon," his office announced Friday. The move reflects a new policy toward Gulf countries in order to curb its archrival Iran's influence in the region.
"The Kingdom of Bahrain is the next destination for Netanyahu," Hani Marzouk, a spokesman for the Prime Minister's office for Arab media, told the Israeli Broadcast Authority, as reported by Anadolu Agency (AA). "This visit is only a prelude for something bigger, for another Middle East," Marzouk said. The visit "is the start for new relations and an indication that we are on the right track to correct history," he said. "Israel sees the Arab world is large, diverse and has rich human potential and it wants to establish great relations with it at the scientific and academic level," Marzouk added.
The apparent bolstering of relations with the Gulf comes as the U.S. pushes tighter sanctions against Iran. Israel currently has full diplomatic relations with only Egypt and Jordan. Although Israel has no formal ties with any of the Gulf States, they share a mutual concern over Iran and its nuclear program.
Netanyahu has launched an initiative to develop positive relations with Gulf countries, and especially with Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also referred to as MBS, is known for his soft stance toward Israel. The two countries, namely Israel and Saudi Arabia, consider Iran the biggest threat to their security. Saudi Arabia believes Iran funds certain groups in Yemen as well as in Syria and Iraq, while Israel claims Iran and its proxies or supporting groups, like Hezbollah, are existential threats to its land.
As part of Israel's new Gulf policy, Netanyahu held surprise talks with Oman's Sultan Qaboos in Muscat earlier this month, the first visit of its kind for an Israeli official in 22 years. His visit was considered as an overture toward the Gulf. Days after the country's minister of transportation and intelligence, Yisrael Katz arrived in the sultanate to discuss a proposal for a rail line that would connect between Israel and the Gulf States, in another display of warming relations between them. According to a map of a hoped-for rail network, the rail line stretches through Jordan and Saudi Arabia to the Gulf.
Earlier, Israel's Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev had toured the United Arab Emirates' (UAE) famed Sheikh Zayed mosque, its communications minister delivered a speech in Dubai and the Israeli national anthem was played at a judo competition in Abu Dhabi. Her visit to the UAE for a judo tournament last week demonstrated the country's new type of relations with the Gulf. Considering that Israel has full diplomatic relations with two Arab countries, Egypt and Jordan, these visits pose great significance in terms of the future of the region.