Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday night landed for the first official visit of an Israeli Prime Minister to the Kingdom of Bahrain, an island country in the Persian Gulf, comprised of a small archipelago of 50 natural islands and 33 artificial islands. Bahrain is situated between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and according to the 2020 census, its population numbers 1,501,635, of which 712,362 are Bahraini nationals. The majority of the Bahraini Muslims are Shiites, while the crown family is Sunni. Bahrain is one of three majority-Shiite countries in the Middle East, the other two being Iraq and Iran.
That last part, Iran, stars in everything this small but very wealthy island nation is doing regarding its peace with Israel. Because, besides being a giant religious and terrorist threat, Iran also has a kind of China-Taiwan view of Bahrain. Here’s what happened:
On August 15, 1971, the Shah of Iran, who claimed historical sovereignty over the oil-rich Iranian district of Bahrain, accepted a referendum held by the United Nations that eventually led to Bahrain declaring its independence. Bahrain joined the United Nations and the Arab League later in 1971. Eventually, Bahrain replaced Beirut as the financial hub of the Middle East after the collapse of Lebanon’s large banking sector in the 1908s (Israel had a lot to do with it).
After the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, the Bahraini Shia population in 1981 orchestrated a failed coup attempt led by the Iranian proxy Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain (it was a front, all right). There were other popular uprisings in Bahrain, between 1994 and 2000, with leftists, liberals, and Islamists joining forces. The regime killed at least 40 of them, and in 1999, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa became the Emir of Bahrain. He instituted parliamentary elections, gave women the right to vote, and released all the political prisoners who hadn’t perished. A referendum in February 2001 supported in great force the new National Action Charter, and Bahrain changed its formal name from the State of Bahrain to the Kingdom of Bahrain, with the title of the Head of State changing from Emir to King.
So it could be safely said that Bahrain has even more reasons than Israel to fear its neighbor Iran and that peace with the Israelis is their only path. Much like Taiwan, they can’t escape their geographical fate. Now, back to the official press releases about this week’s state visit.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was received with an honor guard by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Industry, the Head of Protocol, the Israeli Ambassador to Bahrain, and other senior officials. On Tuesday, the Prime Minister will meet with the Crown Prince and Prime Minister, as well as with the King of Bahrain. They will be talking about… yes, that’s right, Iran. Especially in light of the talks in Vienna which will soon empower the Islamic Republic to do whatever it wants to its tiny neighbor. Help…
Meanwhile, Bennett met on Monday with Bahraini Jewish community leaders and told them: “I’m very delighted to be here in Bahrain, and I could think of no better way to kick off this visit than seeing my family here in Bahrain. All of you are indeed family. I come from Israel with goodwill, with a warm friendship between the two peoples, and I’m sure you can be a remarkable bridge between Bahrain and Israel. I’m looking forward to a wonderful day to strengthen the Abraham Accords, to strengthen the relationship between the nations.”
And so it goes.