The United States called Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates “major security partners” on Saturday, a previously unheard of designation for the two countries home to major American military operations.
Separately, President Donald Trump received Morocco’s highest honour on Friday for his work in advancing a normalisation deal between the kingdom and Israel.
A White House statement tied the “major security partners” designation of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to normalising ties with Israel, saying it “reflects their extraordinary courage, determination and leadership”. It also noted the two countries have long taken part in US military exercises.
It was unclear what the designation means for Bahrain, an island kingdom off Saudi Arabia in the Gulf, and the UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms home to Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Bahrain is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, while the UAE’s Jebel Ali port is the busiest port of call for American warships outside of the US. Bahrain hosts some 5,000 American troops while the UAE hosts 3,500, many at Al-Dhafra Air Base.
The US uses the designation of “major non-NATO ally” to describe its relationship with Kuwait, which hosts the forward command of US Army Central. That designation grants a country special financial and military considerations for nations not part of NATO. Bahrain also is a non-NATO ally.
The US military’s Central Command and the Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Fifth Fleet referred queries to the State Department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The White House designation comes in the final days of Trump’s administration. The president forged close ties to Gulf Arab countries during his time in office in part over his hardline stance on Iran. That has sparked a series of escalating incidents between the countries after Trump unilaterally withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
It also comes after Bahrain and the UAE joined Egypt and Saudi Arabia in beginning to resolve a years-long boycott of Qatar, another Gulf Arab nation home to Al Udeid Air Base that hosts US Central Command’s forward operating base. That boycott began in the early days of Trump’s time in office after he visited Saudi Arabia on his first foreign trip.
Morocco is one of four Arab countries, including the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan, to have agreed to normalise ties with Israel.
A senior administration official was quoted as saying a private ceremony was held in the Oval Office where Princess Lalla Joumala Alaoui, Morocco’s ambassador to the United States, gave Trump the Order of Muhammad, an award given only to heads of state. The award was a gift from Morocco’s King Mohammed VI.
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz received other awards for their work on the Israel-Morocco deal, which was reached in December.
Trump, who leaves office on Wednesday, has drawn some criticism over the Morocco agreement because to seal the deal, he agreed the United States would recognise Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara.
Western Sahara has been the site of a decades-old territorial dispute between Morocco and the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, a breakaway movement that seeks to establish an independent state in the territory.
The Kushner team had been working on reaching more agreements between Israel and the Arab world. But time has run out and no more are expected before Trump’s departure.
Media were not allowed to witness the Moroccan award ceremony. Trump has been limiting his public appearances since losing the election on November 3.