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Israel operated secret embassy in Bahrain for more than a decade: Report

Mission conducted diplomacy with Bahrain via front company listed as commercial consulting firm, Axios reports
Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, right, and Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat bump elbows after signing ceremony in Manama on 18 October (AFP/File photo)

Israel operated a secret diplomatic mission in Bahrain for more than a decade before the two countries agreed to normalise ties last month, Axios reported on Wednesday.

The Manama-based facility conducted diplomacy with Bahrain via a front company listed as a commercial consulting firm.

'All we have to do is change the sign on the door'

- An Israeli official speaking to Axios

Negotiations to establish the office began through a series of secret meetings between Israel's then-foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, and her Bahraini counterpart, Khaled Bin Ahmad al-Khalifa, according to Axios. 

Established in 2009, the existence of the office was placed under an Israeli government gag order, preventing Israeli media from reporting on it.  

The decision to open the operation was prompted when Qatar, a regional rival of Bahrain, closed Israel's diplomatic mission in Doha that year.

The office's existence remained classified, only coming to light in a short report on Israel's Channel 11 news last week.

Secret offices filled with diplomats

Hidden as a company called the "Center for International Development", the firm supposedly offered marketing, commercial promotion and investment services, according to Bahraini public records seen by Axios.

The company changed its name in 2013 to one not disclosed by authorities amid "security reasons", Axios reported.

Because of restrictions on Israeli citizens visiting Bahrain, the covert mission hired Israeli diplomats with dual nationalities.

Axios reported that company shareholders and board members included: Brett Jonathan Miller, a South African national who was appointed in 2013 as Israel's consul general in Mumbai; Ido Moed, a Belgian national who serves as the Israeli Foreign Ministry's cyber coordinator; and Ilan Fluss, a British national who is the Israeli Foreign Ministry's deputy director-general for the economy. 

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Until recently, its CEO was a diplomatic officer only identified as an American national.

To keep up the front, all of the diplomats involved possessed cover stories backed by profiles on LinkedIn, a popular business and networking platform.

The company's website also boasted a strong network of Bahraini and regional contacts.

Official diplomatic relations were cemented on Sunday between Bahraini officials and an Israeli delegation that was accompanied by US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin in Manama. 

The declaration includes an intent to sign a full peace deal that will lead to cooperation agreements in aviation, trade, energy, health and science. 

Just after the deal was signed, Israel sent a formal request to open an embassy in Manama. 

"All we have to do is change the sign on the door," one Israeli official told Axios.