An Israeli Navy officer is seen as Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz arrives during his visit to 5th Fleet Headquarters Navy Base in Juffair, Bahrain, February 3, 2022. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

MANAMA, Feb 3 (Reuters) – Israel and Bahrain signed a security cooperation agreement on Thursday, the first between Israel and a Persian Gulf nation, during a visit by the Israeli defence minister to the kingdom amid heightened tensions in the region.

Bahrain, along with the United Arab Emirates, normalised relations with Israel in 2020 under the U.S.-brokered Abraham Accords, partly out of shared concerns about Iran.

“The MOU (memorandum of understanding) framework will support any future cooperation in the areas of intelligence, mil-to-mil (military to military), industrial collaboration and more,” the Israeli Defence Ministry said in a statement.

An Israeli official said Thursday’s agreement with Bahrain was the first such pact that Israel had reached with one of its new allies in the Persian Gulf.

“Only one year following the signing of the (Abraham) Accords, we have achieved an important defence agreement which will contribute to the security of both countries and the stability of the region,” the Israeli Defence Ministry quoted defense minister Benny Gantz as saying.

It said he and his Bahraini counterpart signed the document, and that Gantz had held talks with King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa at the royal palace.

Earlier in the day, Gantz visited the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet’s headquarters in Bahrain.

Bahrain hosts the Fifth Fleet’s headquarters as well as some operations for CENTCOM, a U.S. military coordination umbrella organisation for the Middle East that Israel joined last year.

“Against a backdrop of increasing maritime and aerial threats, our ironclad cooperation is more important than ever,” Gantz said on Twitter after the naval base visit.

The UAE on Wednesday said it intercepted three drones that entered its airspace over unpopulated areas in the fourth such attack in the past few weeks.

The first three assaults were launched by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis in an escalation with a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and which includes the UAE.

Israel this week is joining a 60-nation U.S.-led Middle East naval exercise alongside the UAE and Bahrain and, for the first time, publicly alongside Saudi Arabia and Oman, two countries it has no diplomatic relations with.

(Writing by Lisa Barrington; Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller; editing by John Stonestreet and Toby Chopra)

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