September 24, 2020 Faith Matters

First direct commercial flight from Israel lands in Bahrain

The first known direct commercial flight between Israel and Bahrain has landed in the island kingdom, just a week after it signed a deal alongside the United Arab Emirates to normalise relations.

Flight data showed an Israir Airlines Airbus A320 landed at Bahrain International Airport after a nearly three-hour flight from Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Hours later, Bahrain acknowledged the flight carried a delegation of Israeli officials.

“A working team from the state of Israel visited Manama today to discuss areas of co-operation between the two countries,” Bahrain said in a brief statement.

“These talks come after the signing of the Declaration of Peace.”

Bahrain did not identify the officials taking part, nor say who they spoke to while in Manama.

There was no immediate acknowledgement of the flight from the Israeli government, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday spoke by telephone to Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa.

Bahrain’s state-run media did not acknowledge the flight.

Officials on the island off the coast of Saudi Arabia did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The US Embassy in Manama similarly did not respond to a request for comment.

The flight was made without ceremony, in sharp contrast to the first El Al flight from Israel to the United Arab Emirates at the end of August.

That plane carried US and Israeli officials, including President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as media.

In Bahrain, civil society groups have criticised the move to normalise relations with Israel, saying that recognition should come only after Palestinians obtain their own independent state.

Bahrain, home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet and a British naval base, has a predominantly Shi’ite population ruled by a Sunni royal family.

Arab Spring protests there in 2011 ended with authorities cracking down with the help of Saudi and Emirati forces.

Bahrain and the UAE signed normalisation agreements on September 15 with Israel at the White House, part of a US diplomatic push as Donald Trump seeks re-election.

The UAE and Israel have moved quickly to explore commercial ties after their normalisation deal.

Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa previously had been quoted as saying he believed Arab countries should drop their boycott of Israel.

It is likely Saudi Arabia, a major benefactor for his nation, gave its assent to the normalisation deal.

Wednesday’s Israir flight flew over the kingdom, which has opened its airspace to Israeli flights to both Bahrain and the UAE.