Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Bahraini Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa at his palace on Tuesday in a meeting that came during a number of events taking place simultaneously around the globe. On Monday, a massive fire broke out at a base belonging to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the western province of Kermanshah. On Tuesday, an Israeli delegation, headed by Joshua Zarka, the deputy director-general for strategic affairs at the Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, traveled to Vienna to meet with the European and American teams taking part in the P5+1 talks over Iran’s nuclear program. At the same time, the Ukraine crisis with Russia continues to act as a strong distraction from the Iran issue.

All of these matters are, in some way, interrelated and affect Israel in one way or another.

Eyal Zisser, vice rector of Tel Aviv University, told JNS that while Bennett’s visit is meant to “send a message that the peace is real and the two sides are fully committed to it, now when it seems that the Americans are leaving the area, it is important [for Bahrain] to strengthen relations with Israel, especially on security issues.”

According to Zisser, both Bahrain and Israel are concerned that eventually, an agreement with Tehran will be reached that “will not solve the problem and will only strengthen Iran when it comes to its assertive policy in the region.”

The Israeli delegation was dispatched to Vienna to clarify Israel’s position regarding a possible return to the 2015 nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Zarka met on Tuesday with Robert Malley, the lead U.S. negotiator of the 2015 deal, as well as with negotiators from Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom and Germany. On Monday, he met with International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi and Russian envoy to the talks Mikhail Ulyanov.

Whether or not the fire in Kermanshah was accidental has not been made public, but given recent “accidents” in other important locations in Iran—coupled with Bennett’s proclamation that Israel would bring the fight to the enemy and weaken the regime from within—makes this incident highly suspicious and indicates that Israel, or some actor, has taken that step.

Russia’s threat against Ukraine currently acts as a diversion of the world’s attention from Iran, and some experts fear that the United States will go soft on the Islamic Republic if it deems it to be more of a side issue.

‘The bridge for tolerance and collaboration’

Notwithstanding, Iran is not the only issue at hand.

Nirit Ofir from the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, told JNS that Bennett’s visit was not confined solely to dealing with the Iranian issue and for good reason.

“In the last few months,” she said, “Bahrain and Israel have been collaborating on a number of issues, including imports, exports and collaborating between people,” such as in the business and academic worlds.

Bennett said in his remarks that the purpose of the visit is to “establish a regional network of ties, a ring of alliances”—partially, of course, to counter Iran, but also to further solidify Israel’s position as a major player in the Middle East.

Both countries agreed on a 10-year plan, “The Joint Warm Peace Strategy,” to expand ties and cooperation in a number of fields.

During the course of the visit, Bennett also formally invited Prince Salman for an official visit to Israel. Such a visit, possibly within the next few months, would further cement the growing ties between the two countries and would help strengthen the arc of connectivity and stability Israel is trying to build in the Gulf, in part as a counter-threat to Iran.

The visit is also no coincidence, having been approved by Saudi Arabia, which has made moves to grow closer to Israel but has yet to join the Abraham Accords.

According to Ofir, Bahrain is “much more acceptable than the United Arab Emirates in the eyes of countries with which Israel still does not have diplomatic relations.”

“These countries are comfortable making Bahrain the bridge for tolerance and collaboration with Israel,” she said.

In May, as part of this new collaboration, the Israel-Gulf Chamber of Commerce, together with Chess4All, will hold an international chess event in Bahrain to promote solidarity between individuals and strengthen ties between the two nations.

Chess4ALL promotes coexistence events in Israel, endorsing chess as an educational tool. Participants at the event will include those from Israel, Bahrain, Sudan, Iraq, Morocco and other countries in the region.

Bennett said during his remarks that the goal “is to turn it from government-to-government, to people-to-people peace and to convert it from ceremonies to substance. We want to fill this relationship with substance in energy, in drive, in economy, in tourism and in the regional architecture.”

Prince Salman replied: “We will hopefully do great things together.”

Ofir agreed. “People-to-people collaboration is important,” she affirmed.

JNS

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