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Israeli Website Quotes Officials: Bahrainis are Free to Visit Israel Under Bahraini Law

Jewish Rabbis Meet Bahraini King on February 23, 2017
Jewish Rabbis Meet Bahraini King on February 23, 2017

2017-10-10 - 9:18 p

Bahrain Mirror: Reports this month have indicated the island kingdom of Bahrain will soon take steps to normalize ties with Israel, ending seven decades of a diplomatic boycott of the Jewish state.

According to the "Times of Israel" news website, the Bahraini Embassy in London issued a statement on Saturday September 23, 2017, "London in what seemed to be the first public admission that Bahrainis are free, under Bahraini law, to visit the Jewish state."

"The kingdom of Bahrain has no issue or problem with any of its citizens or residents practicing their religion or visiting family or friends wherever that may be - which, of course, includes the State of Israel," the statement said.

"According to a spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Bahrainis are allowed to visit Israel after applying for a special visa," the website noted.

Moreover, the Israeli website said that some experts who spoke with The Times of Israel say they have noticed a tendency in recent years for Bahrain to speak publicly about its relations with Israel. It added that however, at the same time, analysts argue it's unlikely Bahrain would normalize ties with the Jewish state without any serious developments in the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.

"The current discussion over Bahrain-Israel ties improving revolves around statements made by Rabbi Marvin Hier, who is the dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, California, and by the associate director of the center Rabbi Abraham Cooper, both of whom met with the Bahraini king in Manama, the tiny Persian Gulf state's capital, on February 26," The Times of Israel stated.

Hier told The Times of Israel last week that Bahraini monarch Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa expressed his opposition to the Arab boycott of Israel, and is ready to allow his citizens to visit the Jewish state freely.

Bahrain meanwhile did not deny any reports by the Rabbis, not did Israel comment on them.

Yoel Guzansky, a senior researcher for Iranian and Gulf affairs at the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies, was keen to "pour cold water" on excitement over the reports.

Guzansky, a former member of the National Security Council for prime ministers Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu, said "I'll eat my hat" if and when Bahraini delegations publicly come to Israel, stating that so far, he said, he has seen "nothing new."

"There's a lot of romanticism around relations with the Gulf for various reasons, political and others," he told Time of Israel, adding it was stoked by the prime minister, who wants to prove he can improve relations with Arab states.

Bahrainis, he noted, have been coming into Israel for years, for business, pleasure or religious pilgrimage. Israelis too, have been traveling to Bahrain.

Wikileaks documents showed that as far back as 2005, the Bahraini king was boasting of his ties with the Israeli espionage agency the Mossad. The development of "trade contacts," though, would have to wait for the implementation of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the king said in the cable.

However, Guzansky said Bahrain might simply be airing its ties with Israel as a public relations stunt.

He pointed out that a member of the Bahraini royal family visits the country's small Hanukah celebration every year, and the regime makes a point of treating the tiny Jewish community well.

In addition, the Israeli news website stated that the kingdom has also come under fire for violently suppressing opposition, including putting down a brief Arab Spring uprising in 2011. "Since then, Shiite groups have continued to protest the regime's powerful grip on the country, leading to perpetual low-level unrest," it went on to say.

On her part, Miriam Goldman, an expert on the Arab Gulf countries with Britain-based security firm LE Beck International, agreed with Guzansky's assessment that Bahrain is still unlikely to normalize ties with Israel without a serious development in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

She said that the Palestinian issue is still very dear to Bahrain and it is unlikely the regime would risk so much political capital.

"Even authoritarian governments need to consider their populations," she said. She noted Iran and Hezbollah use the Palestinian issue to legitimize their actions in the region and said Bahrain wouldn't want to hand them easy political leverage.

Some have put forward the idea that Bahrain's foot-dipping into the waters of naturalization with Israel is actually a test case ordered by Saudi Arabia.

"I think it's plausible," said Goldman of the theory, noting that Saudi and Bahraini foreign policy "are very closely aligned."

Yet, she added, "if it's a test case, it could be for relations with Israel post a deal [with the Palestinians]."

And while she said it would be a "huge change" if Bahraini business delegations would openly come to Israel, she noted the decision could easily be reversed, with reference to that both Qatar and Oman once had Israeli trade offices in their territories, but each closed them in response to flare-ups between Palestinians and the Jewish state.


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