The Bahrain-Israel Mutual Recognition

Yves here. I have to admit to not following the relations among the Gulf States since the press fixates on the Iran-Saudi Arabia sparring. So I hope readers will provide their views on this assessment of the Israel mutual recognition pacts.

By Barkley Rosser, Professor of Economics at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Originally published at EconoSpeak

This freshly announced mutual recognition follows the one between the UAE and Israel, which set a new pattern, with Bahrain and possibly others (Oman?) predicted to follow. I am not surprised it was Bahrain that was next, although it may prove to be the only one. There are several reasons why it was most likely to be next, and why we might not see Oman join in, although that cannot be ruled out.

I see three reasons why Bahrain was most likely to be next, although there are really two fundamental ones with the third arising from those. The most fundamental one is that of the 6 members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), now largely in shatters due to the sanctions on one of them (Qatar) by several others (Saudi Arabia (KSA), UAE, and Bahrain), is the only one where a Sunni minority is ruling over a Shia majority, with the Sunni-Shia conflict a central part of the conflict with Iran that many of them have, with Iran run by Shia, of course, where they are a majority. The Shia of Bahrain have been restive and rose up against King Hamad during the Arab Spring that began in 2011, only to be violently put down. But, unsurprisingly, the king and those around him are especially worried about the Shia and have strongly supported the anti-Iran coalition, which includes Israel. It is this alliance that is at the heart of the new round of recognitions, with UAE leader, Prince Zayed, arguably the leader of the anti-Iran group in the GCC, along with KSA Crown Prince, MbS, although due to opposition of the Saudi religious leaders who are concerned about the Palesrtinians, MbS himself is not seen as likely to follow UAE and Bahrain to recognize Israel, although there is clearly a de facto alliance against Iran between them.

A second reason Bahrain was more likely to be next is that it is more subject to US pressure as it hosts the home base in the Persian Gulf of the US Navy’s 5th fleets, something rarely mentioned in the media, and has been since the 1950s. That dates back to when what is now the UAE was still being ruled by UK as the Trucial States. On top of that Bahrain is the smallest of the GCC members and also is the one that has been running out of oil more than the others (all of them produce at least some oil). In short, King Hamad is much more susceptible to US pressure to recognize Israel, although given his unhappiness with his Shia population and support for the anti-Iran coalition, he has been more inclined to go along anyway.

Another reason, which basically follows these others, is that Bahrain is indeed part of the GCC group that is sanctioning/boycotting fellow GCC member, Qatar, for its apparent unwillingness to join the anti-Iran coalition. Indeed, Qatar and Iran have a joint deal for managing certain natural gas fields in the Gulf, and Qatar, which has the world’s highest per capita income, also hosts al=Jazeera, which has reported on dissident movements in several of its GCC partners, another source of anger. Of course, while Trump initially forgot about this as MbS and Jared Kushner pushed him into supporting the anti-Qatar sanctions, Qatar hosts a major US air base, so the US military did manage to get to Trump to back off overtly supporting the anti-Qatar boycott, although the US has failed to bring that conflict to a conclusion.

So, what about the other two members of the GCC: Oman and Kuwait? I cannot rule out Oman recognizing Israel, but it lacks several of the elements one finds in both Bahrain and UAE. One is that it alone among Muslim nations in the world is not dominated by either Sunnis or Shia. The majority of the population and the leaders are Ibadi Muslims, an ancient sect of Islam, that is barely present anywhere else in the world. But that has allowed Oman to stand aside from the regional Sunni-Shia conflict, and indeed it has played a role as intermediary between the two sides. It was through Oman that the Obama admin made its initial approaches to Iran when it started negotiating the JCPOA nuclear deal that Trump has since withdrawn from. It is also Oman that shares with Iran the crucial Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Persian Gulf. As a result of this, Oman has not joined the anti-Qatar sanctions/boycott, although it is not as pro-Iran as Qatar seems to be. Oman is extremely independent and proud of being so. It joined the GCC to keep the Saudis happy, who organized the group, but it does what it wants. It indeed has apparently had informal friendly relations with Israel, which may lead it to recognize Israel as part of its being friendly with everybody policy. But it would not be doing so either as part of an anti-Iran alliance or to kowtow to the US, although it does not mind keeping the US happy as well.

As for Kuwait, it has long been at the top of per capita income among this group, having the second largest pool of oil in the world, one of the reasons Saddam Hussein invaded the place. It has been surpassed by Qatar in per capita income, but it remains very high up there and is also fairly small, although bigger than either Bahrain or Qatar. The problem for Kuwait is that it almost borders Iran, with just a small amount of Iraq between them (where the Shatt-al-Arab empties into the Gulf, the short river that is formed when the Tigris and the Euphrates come together). It is predominantly Sunni and has a long history of friendship with the Saudi royal family. But its proximity to Iran has it not wanting to join in the overtly anti-Iran alliance, in that regard being a bit like Oman. Also, it has a large Palestinian refugee population, possibly up to a quarter of the population, and recognizing Israel is not something favored by that portion of their population.

So, it is not surprising that Bahrain has recognized Israel. Oman might do so also, although I am not holding my breath on that one, and if they do, it will be to maintain their independent “friendly with all sides” approach rather than the kowtowing to UAE and US that is going on heavily with Bahrain.

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  1. The Rev Kev

    Of course the big prize here for both Trump and Netanyahu is Saudi Arabia. The UAE may have gone first but the Saudis are the main one to look at. With Bahrain, I read that they do what the Saudis tell them to do so it may have been a case of the Saudis throwing the Bahrainians into the water first to see how deep it was. But there is a bigger plan in operation it seems. Pompeo was visiting Arabian countries trying to get them to sign up recognizing Israel as well but few showed any real interest. Who would want the headache of guarding an Israeli Embassy in an Arabian country anyway? Serbia agreed to move their embassy to Jerusalem as part of this but from a film clip, it appears that the Serbian President had not realized what he was signing up for-

    So the plan may have been to get a whole wave of Arabic countries to all recognize Israel in a short order of time and being bribed by the US to do so. Then Trump can try and claim his Nobel prize as a “peacemaker’ which would out do Obama, Netanyahu has all these victories which would propel him into taking the reins of government for a few more years, Israel gets to put in secret bases to flank Iran and Iran itself is left out in the cold. So let us say that for the moment, it is a work in progress but how Arab Street takes this in long term has yet to be determined. I think that there is a split between the Gulf States and the rest of the Arab world and these events may drive that split even deeper if they mostly recognize Israel.

  2. thoughtful person

    Interesting overview. I did not know about Oman’s Ibadi. These countries recognizing Israel seem to be part of an effort to burnish Trump’s resume. If Saudi Arabia were to recognize Israel that would be hard for the US press to ignore. However to be the first would apparently be very difficult politically for MbS.

    Another possibility, the MIC perhaps has not been happy with Trump’s lack of new military interventions. Though Venezuela is also a candidate, I suspect Iran is next in line. Perhaps Trump has made an option agreement for 2021 or 22.

  3. Jonathan Holland Becnel

    Seems to me a continuation of the AMERICAN-ISRAELI-SAUDI Alliance that reared its ugly head when Trump did the bidding of the Neocon Evangelicals who tell their unwitting supporters that The Book Of Revelations is at hand and all the Jews will return to Israel bringing about the 2nd coming of Jesus. Theyve successfully isolated Qatar, had Israel recognize Jerusalem, and now this.

    All to ‘attack Iran/Russia/China.’ Maybe the end goal is to disrupt Chinas new Silk Road WORLD PLAN OF DOMINATION???

    Why have we amplified the real killers of Palestinians and Terrorists who blew up the Twin Towers and supporting a dying fossil fuel Economy run on Petrodollars? I aint got nothing against no Iranians, no Chinese, no Russians like Ali said.

    This short term profit seeking pales in comparison to the rewards gained by living in Harmony with the Planet!!!!! For one, we wont massacre all our Animals and Plants…

    1. Thomas P

      Seems to me the effect will be to push Iran into the lap of China. What choce do they have when USA has cut them off from most of the world market? I don’t know if China is interested in building a naval base in the Persian Gulf, but they are getting a good opportunty here. We may get a repeat of the Cuban missile crisis if USA unilateraly decide that China can’t have a base there.

      1. km

        Why would China want to do that, spend a ton of money and political capital to project power far from home?

        So far, the Chinese strategy has been to avoid foreign entanglements other than business arrangements.

      2. Mike Elwin

        I agree that the Sunni-Shia split is at the heart of the Arab softening on Israel. Sunni Arabs, especially the Saudis, are far less influential in the Muslim world than they used to be. Most of the rest of Islam is as different from Saudi Islam as the Shia are, so they’re not jumping on the Saudi demonization of the Shia.

    2. Tomonthebeach

      Another way to interpret this crap is that the Christian US is finally joining Europe in mounting another Crusade. Just like the past ones, the current crusade initiated by Pope George Bush II will spend many years at war but fail to find and destroy the mythical Muslim Armageddon icon Cardinal Cheney often called The Woomdie (WMD for short). Nothing substantial will have changed in the “Holy Land.” The Arabs will still hate the Jews, Muslim sects will continue to squabble, and all Middle East countries will continue to quietly loathe the USA.

      Lucky for the US there is the Atlantic ocean, or we would be sharing in the EU’s refugee tsunami of 37 million people that our unprovoked US invasion of Iraq has eventually displaced. How do evangelicals sleep at night?

  4. Marshall Auerback

    Definitely one of the more useful analyses I have read on this. I too hadn’t fully appreciated the significant divergences, both culturally and politically of the various Gulf States. Barclay Rosser is an excellent scholar, so I implicitly trust his judgment.

  5. The Historian

    The most telling statement in this whole article:
    “But, unsurprisingly, the king and those around him are especially worried about the Shia and have strongly supported the anti-Iran coalition, which includes Israel. It is this alliance that is at the heart of the new round of recognitions, with UAE leader, Prince Zayed, arguably the leader of the anti-Iran group in the GCC, along with KSA Crown Prince, MbS……..”

    So as great as this is for Trump in his never-ending fascination/competition with Obama, I don’t see that this is that much about Israel at all. I see it as more of a Bismarckian Realpolitik set up of alliances to even further increase competition for the control of the Middle East. And as with the Bismarckian system, everything works great until something happens and you don’t have someone with Bismarck’s manipulative skills at the controls any more.

    1. sharonsj

      Except Trump said he was leaving troops in both Iraq and Syria to protect the oil. And Mondoweiss isn’t interested in balanced news.

  6. rtah100

    This contains important points but, bluntly, the writing leaves something to be desired. It’s like a bad A-level essay.

    I cannot say much about Bahrain but the Oman is fascinating. The Omanis are a remarkable and immensely dignified people and, of all the Gulf Coast states, the only one with a national coherence and sustainable pre-oil way of living.
    – The mountain villages and desert fortresses are impressive and, thanks to microclimates and catching the tail of the monsoon, there are some surprisingly green and fertile spots.
    – Their geopolitical diffidence is not unrelated to the fact that the Shia and the Sunni (but especially the Wahabi Sauds) see the Ibadi muslims as apostates / heretics and deserving of death….
    – Sultan Qaboos was an intriguing character who went to Sandhurst, deposed his father, modernised the country, hired the SAS to put down a minority rebellion and, er, appeared to be a confirmed bachelor despite a period of marriage
    – GCHQ (and five eye friends) maintains a handy access point on a large amount of ME cable traffic from a signals stations up the coast from Muscat, a legacy of Cable & Wireless days.

    My godfather was ambassador to the Oman in the early 80’s when Muscat barely had any roads and my “godbrother” had the most amazing stories about undeveloped nature of the place, including their laundry being done by the women at the river, beating it on the stones.

  7. The Rev Kev

    The Asia Times is also pushing the idea that this process will end in Saudi Arabia recognizing Israel which would mean an Israeli Embassy. Interesting that. Some people will point out that you can’t build a Christian church in that country but you can build an Israeli Embassy. I wonder what benefits the Saudis are hoping for. Israeli missile defence technology? Trade? Oil contracts? An ally against Iran. I’m not sure how well that this will work out for the Saudis in the long term-

  8. Alex

    The interesting part is whether the peace with the UAE and Bahrain will be as cold as the peace with Egypt and Jordan with rather limited trade, tourism and very hostile public opinion of Israel (at least in Egypt).

    Someone I know is about to get have a UAE VC invest into his company so I count it as a positive sign. We’ll see how it goes.

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