Bahrain will be the second Arab country to normalize relations with Israel during the Trump presidency, the White House announced Friday.
The news comes only a few weeks after the United Arab Emirates and Israel agreed to normalize relations under a deal brokered by the United States. Bahrain would be the fourth Arab nation to recognize Israel, which has been treated as a state-non-grata by much of the Arab world for decades.
Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner hinted to reporters Friday that other Arab countries could follow suit.
Following the agreement announcement between the UAE and Israel, an El Al flight was allowed to use Saudi airspace for the first time to travel between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi. When asked if Saudi-Israeli rapprochement could be in the works, Kushner said: “It’s definitely worth noticing a trend in the region.”
“The leadership in the region is — they recognize that the approach that’s been taken in the past hasn’t worked, and they realize that their people want to see a more vibrant and exciting future,” Kushner said. “It was noticed by everyone in the region how well the deal with Israel and United Arab Emirates was received.”
Kushner added that “it’s an inevitability” that all countries in the Middle East normalize relations with Israel.
President Donald Trump spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on Friday to commit to the deal, according to a statement Trump tweeted. King Hamad and Netanyahu thanked Trump for his “pragmatic and unique approach” to bringing the nations together, the statement said.
“This is a historic breakthrough to further peace in the Middle East,” the statement said. “Opening direct dialogue and ties between these two dynamic societies and advanced economies will continue the positive transformation of the Middle East and increase stability, security, and prosperity in the region.”
The Bahraini foreign minister will join Netanyahu and representatives of the UAE at the White House next week to sign a declaration of peace, the statement said.
The Trump administration has long had its eyes set on brokering a peace agreement in the Middle East, and the White House contends the latest thaws put Trump in line for the Nobel Peace Prize. Trump was nominated for the prize by a right-wing Norwegian lawmaker for the agreement between the UAE and Israel.
The mutual hostility from Israel and many Gulf states toward Iran has also played a role in the agreements. The White House used the agreements to contrast the Trump administration’s approach with the forays into dialogue with Iran under President Barack Obama.
“The president is ending endless wars and he is bringing about peace and prosperity, promoting our ally, Israel, normalizing relations with Arab states,” Deputy White House press secretary Brian Morgenstern said on Fox News on Friday. “Really tremendous developments and also isolating those who want to do harm and cause violence and dysfunction, isolating actors like Iran.”
“With regards to Iran, instead of appeasing them, President Trump has been countering them. He left the disastrous nuclear deal and he’s been working very hard to make sure he can make the Middle East safer,” Kushner said.
During his presidency, Obama countered the conventional approach of isolating Iran with sanctions by negotiating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal. The deal aimed to reopen the world to Iran while also tempering its nuclear ambitions.
The nuclear deal was fiercely criticized by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the time as “capitulating” to a regime that was an enemy of Israel. Trump announced the United States’ withdrawal from the agreement in 2018, and the administration has attempted to renew an arms embargo on Iran since.
Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi thanked Trump for his work toward the deal with Bahrain and the UAE, while also acknowledging his country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for working toward building relations with Gulf states for decades, in a statement to POLITICO. On Friday, Netanyahu called the agreement part of a historic shift toward peace in the region, thanking Trump for helping advance dialogue among the countries.
“We’ve been working on this for many years, but we wouldn’t come to this historic moment without the forceful leadership of President Trump and his able team,” he said.
The last Arab states to normalize relations with Israel were Jordan in 1994 and Egypt in 1979.
Quint Forgey contributed reporting.