MANAMA, Oct 21 (Reuters) – A senior Israeli official attended a maritime security conference in Bahrain on Monday in another sign of the Persian Gulf Arab nations and Israel transcending longtime enmities to focus on a perceived common threat from Iran.
Israel, which regards Sunni Muslim Persian Gulf states as natural allies against Shi’ite Muslim Iran, has formal diplomatic relations with only two Arab states, neighbouring Egypt and Jordan, established in 1979 and 1994 respectively.
The maritime workshop being held in Manama stems from a Middle East conference held in Warsaw in February that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the time called a “historical turning point” for an alliance against Tehran.
The United States is trying to build a global maritime coalition to secure vital trade channels following attacks on tankers in the Persian Gulf waters in May and June that Washington has blamed on Iran, a charge Tehran denies.
Tensions have risen since President Donald Trump last year withdrew the United States from a 2015 deal between world powers and Iran under which it agreed to curbs on its disputed nuclear programme in return for the lifting of sanctions.
Washington has since reimposed a panoply of sanctions meant to strangle Iran‘s vital oil exports, and Tehran in turn has scaled back on commitments under the deal to restrict its uranium enrichment programme.
“Aviation and maritime security are at top of the policy agenda in the region,” Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa told the opening of the Maritime and Aviation Security Working Group.
Israeli Foreign Ministry official Dana Benvenisti, head of its counter-terrorism department, attended the Manama gathering in a rare visit by an Israeli official to Bahrain.
In April a group of Israeli businessmen and government officials cancelled a planned visit to an economic conference in Manama due to what organisers said were “security concerns”, following a social media campaign by Bahraini opponents of the visit.
In June, Bahrain hosted a “Peace to Prosperity” workshop meant to encourage investment in the Palestinian Territories as the first part of a broader White House political plan to end the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Last year Oman hosted Netanyahu on a surprise trip, the first time an Israeli leader had visited the sultanate in 22 years. An Israeli cabinet minister subsequently visited the United Arab Emirates.
(Writing by Lisa Barrington Editing by Mark Heinrich)