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A handout picture obtained from the Israeli Government Press Office on February 15, 2022 shows Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (R) meeting with the Bahraini Jewish community leaders in Manama. Image Credit: AFP

Manama: Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Bahrain’s Jewish community Tuesday after arriving for the first visit by an Israeli head of government to the Gulf country, 17 months after they defied decades of tensions to normalise ties.

Bennett was welcomed by Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani at Manama airport, which was decorated with the flags of both countries, late on Monday. He will meet King Hamad and Crown Prince Salman, who is also prime minister, on Tuesday.

Bennett’s visit is the latest such initiative following the US-brokered 2020 Abraham Accords.

“I’m very delighted to be here in Bahrain, and I could think of no better way to kick off this visit than seeing my family here,” he said during a meeting with members of the Jewish community, according to his office.

Israel’s ambassador to Bahrain, Eitan Naeh, Jewish community president Ebrahim Nonoo, Jewish community member and former Bahraini ambassador to the US Houda Nonoo were also present.

In September, Ebrahim Nonoo led prayer services in Manama’s renovated synagogue, bringing Jewish traditions into plain view after decades of worship in private.

“We’re very happy to be out in the open,” Nonoo told AFP at the time.

When Bahrain normalised ties with Israel, it opened everything up, with the small synagogue in the heart of the capital renovated at a cost of $159,000.

Bahrain and UAE became only the third and fourth Arab states - following Egypt and Jordan - to establish ties with Israel when they signed on to the pacts negotiated under US president Donald Trump. Bennett visited the UAE in December.

“In these tumultuous times it’s important that from this region we send a message of goodwill, of cooperation of standing together against common challenges,” Bennett said before his departure.

The trip follows a visit to Manama by Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz earlier this month that saw the two countries sign a defence agreement.

That deal covered intelligence, procurement and joint training, with Gantz boasting that it further consolidated the fledgling diplomatic relationship.