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Israeli investment fund hires former head of Bahraini sovereign wealth fund

Israeli investment fund sets up shop in Manama, as it eyes deals in Saudi Arabia and Gulf region
The skyline of the capital city of Bahrain, Manama, on 28 February 2023 (AFP)

The former CEO of Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund has signed on with an Israeli firm that invests in companies in the Middle East and North Africa to expand the footprint of Israeli technologies in the region. 

Talal al-Zain was named chief investment officer of Exigent Capital Group, which has offices in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The company opened a new office in Manama, Bahrain, earlier this year to lead its GCC expansion. It plans to deploy $500m in middle market companies with a focus on health care, food security, energy, water, and education over the next two years.

The UAE, Morocco, and Bahrain established official relations with Israel in 2020 as part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords.

Military ties between Israel and Bahrain have boomed since the accords. Manama has sought training from Israel’s Mossad and Shin Bet intelligence services, while Israel has provided the Gulf country with drones and anti-drone systems.

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Bahrain’s Sunni ruling family governs a majority Shia population. It was the only Gulf Arab state to experience major unrest during the 2011 Arab Spring protest movement, with citizens demanding greater political freedoms and equal rights regardless of religious identity.

Since the 2011 uprisings, the Bahraini monarchy launched a comprehensive crackdown on opposition groups and human rights activists, arresting hundreds in the process.

Manama office heads Gulf expansion

Exigent Capital’s decision to establish a base in Manama is notable because Dubai has been the preferred location for Israelis looking to do business in the Gulf. Economic ties between Israel and Bahrain have lagged behind the security realm. The two countries had aimed to seal a free trade deal by the end of 2022, but those talks are still ongoing. 

Elie Brender, Exigent’s CEO, said the company will look to deploy capital in countries outside the Abraham Accords and is also eyeing an office in Saudi Arabia. In a recent LinkedIn post, Brender voiced optimism about Israeli businesses' ability to cement normalisation.

“The Abraham Accords are supported by the human and cultural dimensions of the region, and not by the realpolitik of mutual security concerns,” he wrote.

From spies to free trade: Bahrain and Israel aim to deepen economic ties
Read More »

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been pushing to expand the accords, with Saudi Arabia as a major prize. However, his efforts have been complicated by his far-right government alliance and rising violence in the occupied West Bank.

Netanyahu’s government said on Sunday it would expand the construction of illegal settlement housing units in the occupied West Bank.

Meanwhile, violence in the region is escalating. 

On Monday, Israel used Apache attack helicopters in the occupied West Bank for the first time in over 20 years during a raid on Jenin, which killed at least five Palestinians and wounded 91.

The Abraham Accords broke with decades of precedent which held that Arab states would not officially establish relations with Israel until a resolution to the conflict with Palestine was reached.

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