Israel Says Bahrain, Oman Might Follow UAE in Formalizing Ties

Israel Says Bahrain, Oman Might Follow UAE in Formalizing Ties
Palestinians take part in a protest against the United Arab Emirates' deal with Israel to normalise relations, in Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Aug. 14, 2020. (Reuters/Raneen Sawafta)

JERUSALEM—Bahrain and Oman could be the next Gulf countries to follow the United Arab Emirates in formalizing ties with Israel, Israel's intelligence minister said on Aug. 16.

Israel and the UAE announced on Aug. 13 that they will normalize diplomatic relations, reshaping Middle East politics from the Palestinian issue to the fight against Iran.

"In the wake of this agreement will come additional agreements, both with more Gulf countries and with Muslim countries in Africa," Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen told Army Radio.

"I think that Bahrain and Oman are definitely on the agenda. In addition, in my assessment, there is a chance that already in the coming year, there will be a peace deal with additional countries in Africa, chief among them, Sudan," he said.

Both Bahrain and Oman praised the U.S.-sponsored accord, although neither have commented on their own prospects for normalized relations or responded to requests for comment on the subject.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met with Omani and Sudanese leaders in the past two years, including a visit to Oman in October 2018.

"I expect more countries will be joining us in the peace circle," Netanyahu told cabinet ministers on Aug. 16, according to a statement from his office.

"This is a historic change which advances peace with the Arab world and will eventually advance a real, sober, and secure peace with the Palestinians," he said.

The UAE-Israel deal firms up opposition to regional power Iran.

UAE and Israeli foreign ministers held their first publicly acknowledged call on Aug. 16 after the Gulf state opened telephone lines to Israel. The connection of phone service represents the first concrete sign of the deal.

Israeli Communications Minister Yoaz Handel issued a statement “congratulating the United Arab Emirates on removing the blocks.”

“Many economic opportunities will open now, and these trust-building steps are an important step toward advancing states’ interests,” Handel said.

Also, as of Aug. 16, Israeli news websites that had previously been blocked by UAE authorities, such as the Times of Israel, the Jerusalem Post, and YNet, could be accessed without using means to bypass internet filtering in the Emirates.

Israel signed peace agreements with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. But the UAE, along with most other Arab nations, has had no formal diplomatic or economic relations with it.

Oman maintains friendly ties with both the United States and Iran and has previously been a go-between for the two feuding countries.

A close ally of Saudi Arabia–which hasn't yet commented on the UAE-Israel accord–Bahrain hosted a senior Israeli official at a security conference in 2019, as well as a U.S.-led conference on boosting the Palestinian economy as part of U.S. President Donald Trump's Middle East peace initiative.

Government sources in Kuwait said its position towards Israel is unchanged, and it will be the last country to normalize relations, local newspaper al-Qabas reported.

Israel and the UAE also said in the joint statement that deals between the countries are expected in the coming weeks, in such areas as tourism, direct flights, and embassies. Early on Aug. 16, the Emirates’ state-run WAM news agency announced a UAE company had signed an agreement with an Israeli company for research and study of the coronavirus pandemic.

The deal has enraged Iran and Turkey, regional rivals to the UAE.

On Aug. 16, the chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces called the UAE’s decision a “disaster.” Mohammad Hossein Bagheri urged Abu Dhabi to “revise” its position.

“If an incident happens in the Persian Gulf and violates the national security of the Islamic Republic of Iran, even a tiny bit, and we see it from the UAE, we will not tolerate it,” Bagheri said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report
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