IN the lead-up to last Sunday’s Negev summit in Israel – between the foreign ministers of Bahrain, UAE, Morocco, Egypt and USA – Israel’s inaugural ambassador to Bahrain, Eitan Na’eh, reflected upon the strategic importance of “setting up shop” in its capital, Manama, in a March of the Living Australia webinar.
Na’eh said although Bahrain is a small island nation of only 1.5 million people, “since time immemorial it has been a hub and key transit point – the bridge to Saudi Arabia and the whole Gulf”.
“Israeli companies want to find new markets in the Gulf, where 52 million people live,” he said.
“From here [Bahrain], they can now export – still under the Bahraini flag, or through a joint venture – to the rest of the Gulf, and beyond.”
Na’eh – whose mother is a Holocaust survivor – emphasised how the Abraham Accords “are not about making peace – as Israel was never at war with Bahrain, or the UAE – so it’s about building relationships, and connecting different institutions, people and government offices to each other, where there was no real contact before, or only sporadic”.
“That’s what’s so exciting … we set up an embassy in November, starting from almost zero … and we’re learning about the environment here, as it is completely new to us,” said Na’eh.
“In two months it will be the first time that Israel’s independence day will be celebrated in Bahrain, so we’ll need to figure how to do it here.
“As I said at a recent staff meeting, we are writing the manual here, every step of the way.”
The Israeli embassy’s small team of staff in Manama has already hosted several business delegations, and is negotiating and signing new agreements in a range of sectors.
According to Na’eh, Bahrain’s leadership is “really happy and proud to befriend Israel, and wants to have a strong relationship”.
“They understand the threats in the region better than anyone else, and understand the advantage of what it means to be strong.”
When asked if Saudi Arabia could be next to sign the Abraham Accords, Na’eh said he is honestly not sure, “but if it happens,
I think that will represent the biggest change in the region since the Egyptians signed a peace accord with Israel”.
“And it’s my opinon that if the Saudis do [join], then other smaller [Muslim majority] countries will follow, and also probably countries closer to your [Australia’s] borders.”
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