Bahrain has said all flights to and from the United Arab Emirates can cross its airspace, a move that will allow air services between Israel and the UAE to fly over the kingdom.
Thursday’s decision, which the kingdom’s aviation authority said came at the request of the UAE, follows an agreement last month that saw the UAE becoming the third Arab country to reach a deal with Israel about normalising ties.
The US-brokered agreement, which capped years of discreet contact between the two countries in commerce and technology, was denounced by the Palestinians as a betrayal of their cause by a major Arab player, while they still lack a state of their own.
“Bahrain will allow all flights coming to and departing from the United Arab Emirates to all countries to cross its airspace,” reported the official Bahrain News Agency, citing an official source at the Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications.
The decision cuts flying time between the Middle East states by several hours.
Bahrain, which hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet and a British naval base, has an historic Jewish community. The kingdom has slowly encouraged ties to Israel, with two US-based rabbis in 2017 saying King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa himself promoted the idea of ending the boycott of Israel by Arab nations.
Last month, an Israeli official said Bahrain and Oman could be the next Gulf countries to follow the UAE in formalising ties with Israel.
But Bahraini state media reported last week that King Hamad had told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – who was in Manama as part of a Middle East tour aimed at forging more links between Israel and Arab countries following the UAE-Israel deal – that the Gulf state was committed to the creation of a Palestinian state.
Earlier this week, Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, flew with a high-level Israeli delegation to the UAE on the first direct commercial passenger flight between the two countries.
While no other Arab country has yet indicated a willingness to follow the UAE, Saudi Arabia allowed the El Al charter flight carrying Kushner and the Israelis to use its airspace.
On Wednesday, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani told Kushner that Doha remained committed to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. In the initiative, Arab nations offered Israel normalised ties in return for a statehood deal with East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state and full Israeli withdrawal from territory captured in the 1967 Middle East War.
The UAE has promoted the deal as hinging on Israel halting its contentious plan to annex parts of the West Bank sought by the Palestinians for their future state. The deal also may allow Abu Dhabi to buy advanced weaponry from the US, including the F-35 stealth fighter jet.