Striking a Balance: Bahrain’s Quest to Navigate Anger over Gaza while Maintaining Relations with Israel and the US

Bahrain’s Balancing Act on Israel Ties

Bahrain has been walking a political tightrope since war erupted in Gaza as it seeks to ease public fury at a conflict that has killed thousands of Palestinians while preserving a deal with Israel that brought the Gulf state closer to the United States. For tiny Bahrain, close US relations are vital due to its location and Iran’s influence. The deal to normalize ties with Israel, signed in 2020, brought strategic gains that are too valuable to jeopardize, sources and analysts said. Bahrain is trying to preserve the relationship with Israel while also managing public opinion, one of the sources said. Bahrain’s government communications office did not respond to emailed questions on the status of relations with Israel. Kristin Smith Diwan, a researcher at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, said that Bahrain’s adoption of the Abraham Accords is as much about its relations with other countries as it is with Israel. Bahrain faces a balancing act as it seeks to keep the deal intact while reflecting its deep disagreement with Israel’s fierce military campaign in Gaza. On Nov. 2, the elected parliament issued a statement saying the ambassadors of Israel and Bahrain had departed and economic ties had been cut. The fact that the statement on diplomatic and economic ties came from the parliament, not the foreign ministry, stirred ambiguity about whether or not Bahrain had formally cut ties. Israel responded that relations were stable and a subsequent statement by Bahrain’s government only mentioned the envoys had already left without clarifying any reason. The Bahraini government made no mention of economic ties, which are modest. Hundreds of Bahrainis have marched at rallies to show solidarity with Palestinians and protest at the kingdom’s ties with Israel. Almost a decade later when Bahrain signed the Abraham Accords, worries about Iran again formed the security backdrop, with the Islamic Republic still seen by Gulf Arabs as an expansionist security threat to much of the Middle East. Western officials said the accords reinforced Bahrain’s US ties, pointing to a defense pact signed this year. Israel, largely cut off economically and politically for decades from its Middle East neighbors, saw the accords as a shift in regional dynamics and an opening for new trade ties. “The government of the Kingdom of Bahrain is a staunch supporter of the Abraham Accords,” a German foreign office minister of state said. The UAE also intends to maintain its relationship with Israel, which has yielded billions of dollars in trade and close security cooperation, sources have said. In contrast, Bahrain-Israel trade remains modest, worth about $30 million since 2021, according to Israeli government data.