Israel hosts Bahrain delegation amid warming ties with Gulf states
A Bahraini delegation is visiting Israel in a sign of warming ties between the two countries.
The 24-strong delegation is comprised of members of interfaith group This is Bahrain and aims to "send a message of peace".
Although Bahrain and Israel do not have diplomatic relations, covert cooperation has grown between the two countries in recent years.
This Is Bahrain says on its website it promotes "religious freedom and peaceful co-existence where we all live together in harmony in the spirit of mutual respect and love". The delegation featured representatives of a number of different religious groups.
"The king sent us with a message of peace to the whole world," a Shia cleric on the trip told Hadashot TV news.
"The Shias in Bahrain and outside don't feel hatred, they don't carry a message of loathing or hate towards any religion or religious stream whatsoever."
The group on the four-day visit met with Israeli Communications Minister Ayoob Kara, who said he planned to visit Bahrain soon.
"There will be more surprises in the coming year," said Kara, the only Arab member of the Israeli cabinet, according to Bloomberg.
"We see great interest among the Gulf states in developing connections with Israel."
He expected to see a regional conference in 2018 to establish ties between Israel and Arab countries.
Israel first led a diplomatic mission to Bahrain in 1994, though relations have fluctuated since. Both countries have an interest in combating the influence of Iran, which Bahrain blames for fomenting unrest among the kingdom's Shia population.
In 2016, when former Israeli president Shimon Peres died, Bahrain was the only country in the Gulf to publicly mourn his passing.
An informed diplomatic government source told Middle East Eye in September there were high-level contacts between government officials of both countries focusing on exchange visits between businessmen, influential social and religious figures.
That, the source said, would in time be followed by official announcements of business deals between the two countries.
The source said the moves were part of a new reality in the Middle East in which, for example, Syria's President Bashar al-Assad was no longer considered a pariah by all.
"Israel does not threaten our security or conspire against us, but Iran certainly does," the official said.
The Bahraini delegation's visit comes as much of the Arab world is protesting against the decision by US President Donald Trump to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the US Embassy to the city.
Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem, which it has held since capturing it in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, is illegal under international law and the future status of the city is one of the key issues that would need to be resolved as part of any lasting peace deal.
Bahrain condemned the move as a threat to "peace process in the Middle East" which "disrupts" all initiatives and negotiations to reach a solution.
The kingdom stressed the need for "a two-state solution based on international resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative" as well as the establishment of an "independent Palestinian state on the 4 June, 1967, borders with East Jerusalem as its capital".