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Official to i24NEWS: 'Bahrain will be first Gulf state to form ties with Israel'

A general view shows the Bahraini capital Manama.
AFP
Bahrain's Ministry of Foreign Affairs denies the i24NEWS report

Ahead of an extraordinary official visit by an Israeli delegation to Bahrain later this month, an official from the Kingdom told i24NEWS that Bahrain will be the first Gulf state to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.

"Bahrain does not view Israel as an enemy," the official, who asked not to be named, told i24NEWS on Tuesday, adding that rapprochement between the two nations "will not contradict the principles of Bahrain."

Bahrain's Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied the report.  

An official Israeli delegation is set to travel to Bahrain to attend a meeting of the World Heritage Committee organized by UNESCO on June 24, Israel's foreign ministry confirmed. Sources in Jerusalem told i24NEWS the delegation will consist of two high ranking Israeli officials.

The visit is apparently the first time an official Israeli delegation will travel to the Gulf nation, with which Israel has no diplomatic ties.

Israeli officials further explained that since the World Heritage Committee is an event organized by the United Nations, the host country is obligated to welcome all representatives of UN member nations, regardless of their bilateral relations. Under this rule, an Israeli delegation went to Malaysia earlier this year for another world body conference, despite hostility between the two countries.

The Bahraini official told i24NEWS that while the Kingdom is indeed obligated to allow the Israeli delegation to attend, he believes that it is important to do so and to "allow everyone to express their views."

"Bahrain's interest is the most important thing for Bahrain," the official further added.

In response to i24NEWS' report on Wednesday, Israel's Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday he was “not aware” of any concrete moves in a such a direction.

“I am not aware of it. I would be very happy if it happens, but it is unlikely to happen very soon. Altogether these are good indications. but I am not aware of any specific breakthrough,” Hanegbi was quoted as saying on Wednesday.

While Israel and Bahrain do not have official diplomatic ties, in recent months there have been signs of warming relations between the two countries.

Last month, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa said in unprecedented remarks that the Jewish State had the right to defend itself against Iran after it copped some 20 rockets fired by the Quds Force from Syria.

He further said that the newly relocated American embassy in Jerusalem is not located in the future Palestinian capital.

The public backing for Israel was viewed as highly unusual for an Arab state, however of all the Gulf countries, Bahrain has been seen as the most willing to inch towards reconciliation.

In March, US Rabbi Marc Schneier -- who has made frequent visits to the Gulf -- told i24NEWS that Bahrain could establish full diplomatic ties with Israel within two years.

The wealthy Gulf monarchy shares with Israel a deep resentment towards Iran, the Middle East's Shia powerhouse.

The country promotes itself as religiously tolerant and, alongside Schneier’s visit, has hosted several delegations of Jewish group from the US and other countries.

Ellie Hochenberg is i24NEWS' Diplomatic Correspondent.

Senior Middle East Correspondent Mohammad Al-Kassim contributed to reporting.

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