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Israel’s Herzog makes historic visit to Bahrain

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President Isaac Herzog has arrived in Bahrain on Sunday for the first official visit to the Gulf country by an Israeli head of state.

An honor guard led by Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani greeted the president upon his landing at Bahrain International Airport.

“My visit here in Bahrain brings a message of peace, affection and friendship from the people of Israel to the Bahraini people and His Majesty,” Herzog said at the start of his meeting with Al Zayani.

In a briefing with Israeli journalists, Al Zayani offered congratulations on the recent parliamentary elections and said that he looked forward to working with prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, who he called “one of the architects of the Abraham Accords.”

The historic trip comes more than two years after Israel and Bahrain normalized relations as part of the U.S.-brokered Abraham Accords. Accompanied by his wife, First Lady Michal Herzog, the president will also visit the United Arab Emirates during the diplomatic swing. The UAE along with Bahrain participated in the White House signing ceremony September of 2020 for the Abraham Accords.

His visit to Bahrain comes at the invitation of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, who he met with at Al-Qudaibiya Palace shortly after his arrival. Herzog received an honor guard at the royal residence in Manama and both country’s national anthems were played.

Herzog gave the king a silver mezuzah as a gift from Israel.

“My friend, Your Majesty, King of Bahrain, I thank you for the welcome to the distinguished Kingdom of Bahrain, as the first president of Israel to visit Bahrain,” Herzog said.

The two leaders discussed bilateral relations between the two countries and expanding those relations during the meeting, according to a statement from the president’s office. The king also mentioned the Palestinian issue, saying that they are hoping for a ‘just peace” between Israelis and Palestinians.

While in the capital Manama, Herzog is scheduled to meet with — in addition to the king — government officials as well as leaders of the local Jewish community. He will also visit the Bahrain Economic Development Board with the Israeli business representatives who joined Herzog on the Arkia Israeli Airlines flight.

On Monday, the president will depart Bahrain for the UAE where he will attend the Abu Dhabi Space Debate and meet with UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan — the fourth meeting between the two leaders.

In his statement, Herzog acknowledged that his visit is not entirely welcomed in the majority Shiite Muslim country – with an estimated population of 1.8 million – run by a Sunni Muslim royal family. The trip comes “amid protests and other dissenting voices,” the president admitted. It was reported last week that Israel’s Shin Bet (domestic security agency) increased Herzog’s security posture for his trip to the Gulf, following a social media campaign by locals opposed to his visit.

However, Herzog emphasized that his visit is “predominately a visit of peace.” He penned a column in the Bahraini newspaper Al Ayam published in print and online Sunday discussing this point that he said was another important step in Israel’s inclusion in the region for more stability and prosperity.

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