JERUSALEM - Israel and Bahrain will open embassies soon, their foreign ministers said on Wednesday, as the two countries look to broaden cooperation that Washington has promoted as an anti-Iran alliance and potential economic bonanza.
On a first official visit by Bahraini officials to Israel, the Gulf kingdom's foreign minister, Abdullatif Al-Zayani, said his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi, would visit Manama in December.
"I was pleased to convey to Minister Ashkenazi the Kingdom of Bahrain's formal request to open an embassy in Israel and to inform him that Israel's reciprocal request for an embassy in Manama has been approved. This is a process which I hope can now move forward relatively quickly," said Al-Zayani.
Ashkenazi, speaking at Israel's foreign ministry with Al-Zayani, said he hoped the opening ceremonies would be held by the end of 2020.
Israeli and Bahrani officials signed several memoranda of understanding in October in Manama covering trade, air services, telecommunications, finance, banking and agriculture.
Visas and flights
By the end of 2020 Bahraini citizens will be able to apply online for a visa to visit Israel, Ashkenazi said, and direct flights would start soon.
The Bahraini delegation travelled on Gulf Air flight GF972 - a reference to Israel's telephone country code - on the airline's first commercial flight to Tel Aviv.
President Donald Trump's Middle East envoy, Avi Berkowitz, was also on the flight, which flew over Saudi Arabia, an accommodation by the Gulf's powerhouse, which has so far resisted US appeals to normalise ties with Israel.
Since September, the Trump administration has brokered agreements with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan toward normalising their relations with Israel in a strategic realignment against Iran.
The shift has enraged the Palestinians who have demanded statehood before any such regional rapprochement.
Although White House officials have said more countries are considering normalising ties with Israel, further developments appear unlikely before US President-elect Joe Biden takes office and establishes his administration's policy on Iran.
Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen, speaking on Army Radio, said a commitment towards a tough policy on Iran by the next administration in Washington would determine whether other countries would opt for normalisation deals with Israel.