Israeli minister invited to Bahrain amid diplomatic push for Gulf ties

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Israeli Economy and Industry Minister Eli Cohen has been officially invited to attend an international high-tech conference next year in Bahrain, the Israeli Broadcast Authority reported yesterday, as a latest sign of growing regional ties between Israel and Arab States.

"I myself received a personal invitation to Bahrain," Israeli Economy Minister Eli Cohen said in a radio interview. Cohen told Army Radio the invitation was to a conference in the first quarter of 2019 "in the realm of technology and high-tech, in which the State of Israel is certainly a leader." He did not say whether he planned to attend. Asked to elaborate, an Israeli official briefed on Cohen's affairs said the event to which he had been invited was the Startup Nations Ministerial conference on April 15, a forum for public policymakers to discuss how to promote entrepreneurs.

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a meeting with Chadian President Idriss Deby that he would visit other Arab countries following his recent visit to Oman last month. His next visit would reportedly be Bahrain, according to his office's statement released last week. The move reflects a new policy toward Gulf countries in order to curb its archrival Iran's influence in the region.

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.

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.

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