JERUSALEM (AP) – A joint US-Israel delegation was due to travel to Bahrain on Sunday on Israel’s first direct commercial flight to the Arab Gulf state, where they will sign a number of bilateral agreements following an announcement on last month to normalize relations.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat are leading the delegation that takes off from Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.
El Al Flight 973 – a nod to Bahrain’s international dialing code – will fly through Saudi airspace towards Manama, where dignitaries from the three countries will speak in a post-landing ceremony .
“This will be the official establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries,” said an Israeli diplomatic official, speaking on condition of anonymity pending the official announcement.
The move to establish ties with Israel outraged Palestinians, whose leaders have criticized the Bahraini decision and a similar Emirati deal, as a betrayal and a challenge to the Arab position that recognition of Israel should not take place. only after the Palestinians obtain a state independent of their own.
As part of the agreement to normalize relations, the two Gulf Arab states and Israel will eventually establish embassies and exchange ambassadors. The Israeli official said the Israeli embassy is expected to open in Bahrain in the coming months.
Like the UAE, Bahrain is expected to open its embassy at some point in the city of Tel Aviv, where most foreign embassies are located due to Jerusalem’s disputed status.
Bahraini and Israeli officials have had many conversations since announcing their intention to establish strong ties. Sunday’s face-to-face meetings, however, are seen as another step towards normalization.
Meanwhile, Israel and the United Arab Emirates have already signed a number of trade, banking and intergovernmental agreements.
Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates officially signed the Agreement to Normalize Relations with Israel in a White House ceremony on September 15. Egypt and Jordan are the only two other Arab states to sign diplomatic treaties with Israel, in 1979 and 1994 respectively.
The accords made public what had been a gradual strengthening of calm ties between Israel and several Gulf states – forged in recent years over a common concern over regional rival Iran. Other Arab countries could follow suit, with analysts and insiders pointing to Sudan, Oman and Morocco as possibilities.
The Israeli delegation is expected to return to Tel Aviv later on Sunday, while the Americans will travel to the United Arab Emirates before flying to Israel on Tuesday.