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Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday began a historic visit to Bahrain, where he will open the Israeli embassy a year after the normalization of relations negotiated by the United States.
The senior Israeli diplomat landed at Manama airport, where a Gulf Air plane was due to take off for the first commercial flight between the two countries soon after.
Lapid makes Israel’s first bilateral ministerial visit to Bahrain, as part of a thaw in regional relations after the UAE, Morocco and Sudan also established relations last year under agreements known as the Abrahamic Accord.
However, anger is boiling in some quarters over the move, which broke decades of Arab consensus that there will be no relationship with Israel until the Palestinian issue is resolved.
Protesters burned tires on the outskirts of Manama early Thursday, sending clouds of black smoke into the air, and the hashtag #BahrainRejectsZionists in Arabic circulated on social media.
Additional security was stationed on the road leading to the airport and no Israeli flags were visible on the main roads. Opposition activists called for more protests later Thursday.
Memoranda of understanding on technology and economics will be signed during Lapid’s visit, as well as agreements involving Israel’s national water company and Sheba Hospital, Israeli officials said.
Arab countries involved in the Abrahamic accords have highlighted the economic benefits of ties with Israel, with half a billion dollars in trade already reported with the UAE.
The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco became the first Arab states in decades to normalize relations with Israel last year, following negotiations led by former US President Donald Trump.
The Jewish state had already concluded peace treaties with neighboring Egypt and Jordan.
On the first anniversary of the Abraham Accords this month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged to continue the Trump administration’s efforts.
“This administration will continue to build on the successful efforts of the last administration to advance standardization,” Blinken said.
“We will encourage more countries to follow the example of the Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco. We want to widen the circle of peaceful diplomacy,” Blinken said.
Beyond the economy, the rapprochement was also driven by mutual concerns over Iran, with regional rivalry even prompting Saudi Arabia to quietly establish relations with the Jewish state.
Lapid is the main architect of the Israeli coalition government that toppled former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who signed the Abraham Accords. He has visited the United Arab Emirates and Morocco since becoming Minister of Foreign Affairs in June.
© 2021 AFP