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Israeli FM Lapid heads to Bahrain for first official visit

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JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s foreign minister arrived in Bahrain on Thursday, the first high-level visit to the small Gulf state by a senior Israeli official since the signing last year of a landmark agreement to establish diplomatic ties.

Yair Lapid landed in Bahrain’s capital, Manama, for meetings with his Bahraini counterpart and to inaugurate Israel’s embassy. It was the first official visit by an Israeli Cabinet member.

After Lapid landed, Bahrain carrier Gulf Air launched its first direct flight between Manama and Tel Aviv.

The Israeli diplomatic delegation was to meet with its Bahraini counterparts and sign a raft of agreements to further cement bilateral ties, including economic deals and cooperation between hospitals and water companies. The two countries had long enjoyed clandestine security ties over a shared distrust of regional rival Iran, but only last year took the relationship public.

“We see Bahrain as an important partner, both in the bilateral level but also as a bridge to cooperation with other countries in the region,” said Lior Haiat, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry.

Israel established formal diplomatic relations with four Arab states last year as part of the U.S.-brokered “Abraham Accords.” Lapid has already visited the United Arab Emirates and Morocco and opened Israel’s diplomatic offices there since he became Israel’s foreign minister in June.

Bahrain’s first ambassador to Israel arrived earlier this month and presented his credentials to Israel’s figurehead president on the anniversary of the signing of the accords.

The deals to establish relations with Bahrain, Sudan, Morocco and the UAE were the first peace accords between Israel and Arab states in decades, after peace treaties with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1995.

The deals enraged the Palestinians, who felt a betrayal of their national cause. They saw it as an abandonment of a longstanding commitment in the Arab world not to normalize relations with Israel until there was progress in resolving the decades-long conflict with the Palestinians.

The Israeli delegation arrived earlier this week and joined Bahrain’s tiny Jewish community in marking the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah. Haiat said it was the first time in over 75 years that the community could mark the holiday in its synagogue.

“The fact that we could celebrate it yesterday was a very joyful event for us and for the community as well,” he said.

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