Israel's Minister of Economy and Industry Eli Cohen has been invited to attend a conference in Bahrain to discuss cooperation between the two countries.
Cohen received an official invitation to attend the "Startup Nations Ministerial Conference" -which is being organised by the World Bank and the Global Network Initiative NGO – in the Bahraini capital Manama. The conference is expected to take place in early 2019 and will see international ministers "discuss ways in which employment can be stimulated and economic growth promoted by stimulating and promoting economic "initiative and entrepreneurship", i24 Arabic reported.
This is the fifth time the conference has been held, with previous hosts including Italy, Turkey, South Africa and Colombia.
The invitation will be seen as the latest evidence of Bahrain's normalisation of relations with Israel. In October, it was revealed that Bahrain is secretly holding talks with Israel in preparation for open relations between the two countries and a visit to the Gulf state by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Bahrain was supportive of a similar visit to Oman by Netanyahu last month. Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled Bin Ahmad Al Khalifa said that he "wishes success for the efforts being exerted by the Omani Sultan Qaboos Bin Said aimed at reviving the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians". Al Khalifa added: "The proposed regional security alliance between the US – on one hand – and Egypt and Jordan – on the other – will remain open for any country which accepts its principles".
Also last month, Bahraini writer Abdullah Al-Junaid sparked controversy after saying that his country will not ask for anyone's permission to establish direct and formal relations with Israel. In an interview with Russia Today, Al-Junaid stressed that: "If Bahrain finds its interest in this, it will not take permission from anyone". Al-Junaid was also critical of Palestine, saying Palestinians must return to what he described as "political reality" and asking: "Why do they not form political parties instead of armed fronts?"
Israel-Bahrain relations have been developing throughout the course of the year, with a Bahraini official announcing in June that an Israeli delegation would participate in a meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee hosted by Bahrain. The World Heritage Advisor to the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities, Mounir Bouchenaki, said in a statement that: "Any state in the United Nations has the right to participate in these meetings", pointing out that "in return there is a Palestinian delegation which will also participate in the meetings".
In May, the Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid Bin Ahmed caused outrage by saying that Israel had the right to defend itself against Iranian attacks. Bin Ahmed wrote on Twitter: "As long as Iran has violated the status quo in the region and invaded countries with its forces and missiles, any country in the region, including Israel, has the right to defend itself by destroying the sources of danger."
His comments were lauded by Israel, with Minister of Communication Ayoob Kara interpreting the statement as a show of "historic support for the State of Israel in the face of Iranian aggression [which] reflects the new coalition being created in the Middle East […] thanks to the efforts of our prime minister."