The Bahraini Foreign Minister has lately been showing a lot of support for Israel. It didn’t come out of nowhere. Here’s a timeline:
Open support for Israel isn’t very common among Arab countries and politicians. Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled Bin Ahmad al Khalifa is, however, one of the exceptions with his increasingly frequent comments about Israel’s involvement in other Middle Eastern countries, namely Palestine and Syria.
The most recent one referred to Australia’s formal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Canberra’s decision came in support of US President Donald Trump’s decision last year to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, after recognising it as the capital of Israel. The decision has faced an immediate international backlash, especially in the Arab world, with the exception of Israel and Bahrain.
"Australia's stance does not impact the legitimate Palestinian demands, first among them being East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, and it does not contradict the Arab Peace Initiative," al Khalifa tweeted on Saturday, commenting on Australia’s decision.
But the Bahraini foreign minister’s pro-Israel comments didn’t come out of left field.
The MBS take over: the beginning
Bahrain traditionally supported the creation of an independent Palestinian state and didn’t have any diplomatic or economic relations with Israel. It seemed to change slowly after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman took over the reign in Saudi Arabia in 2015, a country which Bahrain heavily depends on.
The country, led by a Sunni monarchy, was rocked by protests in 2011 by its Shia majority and others who demanded more political freedoms. Saudi Arabia came to Bahrain's defence to protect the monarchy against the outraged protesters.
US President Trump paid an official visit to Saudi Arabia on May 20 2017, to galvanise support against Iran’s activities in the region, leading to a crisis between Qatar and the Gulf countries.
In September 2017, reports said a Saudi royal secretly met senior Israeli officials in Tel Aviv amid concerns over their common enemy, Iran, a claim later confirmed by Israel. Bahraini King Hamad bin Issa al Khalifa condemned the boycott against Israel, a week after the meeting.
In December, two weeks after Trump’s announcement to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Al Khalifa became only Arab politician commenting in favour of the controversial move. Without addressing the effect of the decision directly, he said Jerusalem is a “side issue” compared to the fight against “fascist Iran”.
In May 2018, the Bahraini foreign minister’s support for Israel became clear as he officially recognised Israel’s right to exist and defend itself by destroying “sources of danger”, referring to the Israeli operation against Iranian targets in Syria. The Bahraini opposition, however, branded al Khalifa’s statement as “a disgrace ... [and] a crime against Islam, the Palestinian cause and the nation as a whole”, and demanded his resignation.
As a result of Israel’s effort to build ties with Gulf countries, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu visited Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said at his palace in Muscat on October 26, as the Arab country appeared to step up to talk with the leadership of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
"We are very optimistic about this Israel-Palestine proposal. The Torah (Jewish holy book) saw the light in the Middle East. The Jews used to live in this area of the world,” Omani Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, the sultanate's foreign minister, said the day after Netanyahu’s visit.
In November, al Khalifa said that he “wishes success for the efforts being exerted by the Omani Sultan Qaboos Bin Said aimed at reviving the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians”.