June 8, 2021 — Manama
His Excellency Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Bahrain, addressed a worldwide audience of thousands participating in the 2021 American Jewish Committee Virtual Global Forum.
In a conversation with Jason Isaacson, AJC Chief Policy and Political Affairs Officer, the foreign minister discussed the historic Abraham Accords, Bahrain-U.S. relations, and the Iranian threat. Isaacson has spearheaded the leading global Jewish advocacy organization’s engagement with Bahrain and other Gulf Arab states over the past 25 years.
“Bahrain is a nation that believes in dialogue, that believes in respecting the other, that believes in coexistence, that believes in cooperation, and that’s what His Majesty, the King, practices in his doctrine and his decision to pursue peace with Israel,” Dr. Al Zayani declared.
“Hopefully, the people of the region can see the benefits, and, in particular, the Israelis and Palestinians can see the benefit of the peace,” he said. For Bahrainis, “the most important benefit is that the values of the Bahrainis are being really recognized. We are sending the message from a small nation, saying that peace is the way forward.”
Bahrain has sought privately and publicly over the years to help facilitate efforts to achieve Arab-Israeli peace and, notably, hosted the Peace to Prosperity Workshop in 2019.
“Bahrain’s decision to sign the Abraham Accords is firmly based on our belief that they represent a step towards resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” said Dr. Al Zayani. “Our position is firm in supporting the Palestinians to reach a solution and cooperation with the Israelis. We hope that the path we have pursued will really help in achieving that.”
“Through our long engagement with Bahrain, the only country on the Arabian Peninsula with an indigenous Jewish community, AJC has seen again and again the kingdom’s commitment both to regional peace and to interfaith harmony,” Isaacson noted. “Both of those commitments were evident in Dr. Al Zayani’s remarks.”
Bahrain’s long history as a trading center, bringing together peoples of different faiths from around the world, underlies “why we believe in coexistence,” he explained.
“Manama is the most religiously diverse city in the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council], perhaps in the world,” said Dr. Al Zayani. Many places of worship -- synagogue, mosque, church, temple – are located together in an area of less than one square mile.
Interfaith cooperation “is one of the really defining characteristics of modern Bahrain and informs our approach to both national and international issues,” he affirmed. This has been highlighted in recent years by the establishment in 2017 of the King Hamad Global Center for Peaceful Coexistence, which plays an important role in promoting interfaith dialogue.
On relations with Washington, the minister emphasized that “Bahrain and the United States have enjoyed a very healthy, long, close partnership that has proved its value in safeguarding the region.” King Hamad “believes the men and women with the Fifth Fleet are here to support peace and stability in region.” Bahrain is home base for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
Bahrain was designated a major non-NATO ally of the U.S in 2009, and the U.S.-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement dates to 2006. This year, Bahrain and the U.S. are marking the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations.
And last year, the minister noted, Bahrain became the first Arab country to accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism, when it signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. State Department on combating antisemitism.
Discussing the “shared challenge from the Iranian regime,” the minister stressed that “the totality of the Iranian challenge” must be addressed, not only the nuclear issues. The challenge includes, he pointed out, Iran’s missile development and “support for proxies and militias that interfere with other countries.”
“Bahrain has firsthand experience,” he said, disclosing that his country’s Coast Guard and law enforcement recently seized numerous stashes of weapons. In addition, “the Iranians use the media and NGOs” for a “wider international propaganda campaign” that threatens other nations in the region.
“We need the international community to convince Iran that it cannot prosper by trying to subvert and undermine other countries,” he concluded. “The interests of Iran and its people are best served by being a responsible regional and global citizen.”