Hamas, Hezbollah lash out at Bahrain as Israeli FM concludes visit

Hamas criticized the visit as Israel’s relations with the island kingdom continue to improve, despite historically high tensions with the Palestinians.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen wrapped up a three-day visit to Bahrain on Tuesday, leaving the the Gulf nation with several bilateral agreements and cooperation pledges.

The Gaza-based Palestinian organization Hamas condemned Cohen’s visit in a statement on Tuesday, pledging “its rejection of normalization with the Zionist occupation.”

Hamas also mentioned the upcoming visit of Moroccan senate leader Enaam Mayara to Israel, scheduled for Thursday.

“We call on our brothers in Arab states to retreat from this dangerous path that will bring them nothing but damage from a fascist, racist entity built on treachery,” said the group.

The Lebanese militant organization Hezbollah also condemned Cohen’s trip. The Iran-backed group accused the Bahraini government on Tuesday of “worsening its political and moral decline through rushing towards normalization with the enemy after years of oppressing and terrorizing the Bahraini people.”

The Palestinian Authority, which maintains good ties with Manama, did not immediately comment.

Cohen arrived in Bahrain on Sunday for his first visit to the kingdom. On Monday, he met his Bahraini counterpart Abdullatif Al Zayani and the two signed agreements on technology, finance and bilateral relations, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a press release.

The official Bahrain News Agency reported that the diplomats signed two joint declarations. The first relates to the establishment of a “Bahrain-Israel Internship Programme” focused on software, engineering, science and related fields, while the second relates to activities for youth.

Zayani also signed a memorandum of understanding with Ron Klein, the deputy director of Israel’s Securities Authority, on financial cooperation, specifically capital markets, fintech and innovation, according to the agency.

Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa also met Cohen on Monday. The prince also reiterated Bahrain’s “firm stance” on peace between Israel and the Palestinians that “guarantees the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people,” according to a statement from the prince’s office.

Cohen also inaugurated Israel’s new embassy in Manama on Monday, relocating from a building that hosted the embassy in 2021. An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson told Al-Monitor on Wednesday that the original embassy was a temporary location, and that they have now moved to a permanent one.

The Israeli diplomat was also scheduled to meet Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Agence France-Presse reported on Sunday. However, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson denied that was the case.

Cohen told reporters at the inauguration ceremony that he and Zayani further agreed to increase direct flights, tourism, trade and investment between Israel and Bahrain, Agence France-Presse reported.

On Tuesday, Cohen tweeted a picture of himself along with Israeli member of parliament Amit Halevi, the president of the Knesset’s Israel-Bahrain friendship group, and announced the conclusion of the visit.

أختتم اليوم زيارة مهمة إلى المنامة، عاصمة مملكة البحرين، برفقة عضو الكنيست @HaleviAmit، رئيس مجموعة الصداقة البرلمانية الإسرائيلية البحرينية.

لقد تلقينا ترحيبا حارا واتفقنا على توسيع حجم التجارة والتعاون في عدة مجالات بين البلدين مما سيعزز العلاقات بين البلدين ويساهم في ازدهار… pic.twitter.com/Zs11qOxjfQ
— אלי כהן | Eli Cohen (@elicoh1) September 5, 2023

Why it matters: Cohen’s visit occurred on the eve of the third anniversary of the US-brokered Abraham Accords on Sep. 15, in which Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates established full diplomatic relations with Israel. The Palestinian Authority condemned the agreement at the time.

Israel-Bahrain relations have strengthened since then. Israeli President Isaac Herzog became the first Israeli head of state to visit Bahrain when he went to Manama last December. Israel and Bahrain also signed a security cooperation agreement last year.

The enhancement of ties is occurring despite high tensions between Israel and the Palestinians. Bahrain has condemned the provocations and settlement expansion policies led by the Israeli government. In July, Bahrain postponed Cohen’s trip following Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s visit to the Temple Mount/ Haram al-Sharif compound in Jerusalem.

Bahrain and Israel nonetheless share a desire to boost economic relations as well as concerns about Iran. Bahraini authorities have publicly accused Iran of being behind terrorist plots in the kingdom.

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