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The New Arab Staff

Israel kept secret embassy in Bahrain for a decade before normalisation agreement

Bahrain officially normalised ties with Israel this year [Getty]

Date of publication: 21 October, 2020

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Israeli and Bahraini officials held secretive talks through a front company, new reports reveal.
Israel operated a secret diplomatic mission in Bahrain for more than a decade before the two countries agreed to normalise ties last month.

Negotiations to open the covert embassy began in 2007, Axios reported.

Until this month, Bahrain and Israel had no diplomatic relations.

After the UAE, the tiny Gulf kingdom became the fourth Arab nation to normalise ties with Israel.

Most Muslim-majority nations have historically eschewed relations with Israel out of solidarity with the Palestinians.

The secret Israeli mission was first revealed by Israel's Channel 11 News last week. An official gag order kept its existence under wraps for 11 years.

Discussions between then-Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and her Bahraini counterpart Khaled Bin Ahmad Al-Khalifa to open the diplomatic mission came about partly in response to Qatar's severing of trade relations with Israel, Israeli officials told Axios.

In July 2009, a company named "The Center for International Development" was registered in Bahrain.

While nominally offering a consultancy firm, the company was actually a front for Israeli diplomatic activities. The company changed its name in 2013 to one not disclosed by authorities due to security concerns.

Due to restrictions on Israeli citizens visiting Bahrain, the covert mission hired Israeli diplomats with dual nationalities.

As well as providing a secret channel for direct communications between Israeli and Bahraini officials, the undercover embassy also promoted trade deals with Israeli companies.

Israeli officials have already requested to open an official embassy in Bahrain's capital Manama, according to Axios.

"All we have to do is change the sign on the door," one official said.

While the identity and location of Israel's embassy may have been a tightly guarded secret, observers of the region have long been aware of warming relations between the Gulf Arab states and Israel.

Recent years have seen increasing reports that several Gulf states are open to normalising ties with Israel, a topic that is taboo for most of the general public in the region. 

 
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