MANAMA, Bahrain—With only 1.5 million residents, half of whom are expats, the Kingdom of Bahrain may be a small country.

But it is punching above its weight. 

Known for centuries for fishing and pearls, Bahrain was the first Gulf country to discover oil.

That discovery not only changed the nation, and the region – it changed the world.

It has become a leader in financial services in the Arab and Islamic world.

It is the home of the U.S. Fifth Fleet and thus an indispensable American ally and cornerstone of regional security.

It is also a pioneer in forging peace with Israel.

On Sept. 11, 2020 – the very anniversary of the horrifying al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and Pentagon in Washington – Bahrain announced its decision to normalize relations with the State of Israel.

Days later, Bahrain’s foreign minister joined his counterpart from the United Arab Emirates and then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the South Lawn of the White House to sign the historic Abraham Accords. 

I was there, covering the extraordinary and emotional moment for ALL ARAB NEWS and ALL ISRAEL NEWS.

And now – at the invitation of all three governments – I’m leading the first-ever “Abraham Accords Delegation of Evangelical Business & Media Leaders” here to Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and then to Israel to thank their leaders, learn how the Accords are working, and assess what the future may hold.

All Arab News Editor-in-Chief Joel Rosenberg interviews Israeli Ambassador to Bahrain Eitan Na’eh, April 22, 2022. (Photo: All Arab News)

MEETING ISRAEL’S “START-UP AMBASSADOR”

As it happens, our first meeting here in Manama was a three-and-a-half-hour session yesterday with the man that I have dubbed Israel’s “Start-Up Ambassador,” Eitan Na’eh.

After all, he had been Israel’s ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan, developing extensive experience in navigating Israel’s relations with major Sunni and Shia nations.

But now, in barely 18 months, Na’eh has effectively opened and built up two Israeli embassies from scratch.

The first was in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, where he served as charge d’Affaires until January of this year. That’s where I first met him and became impressed with his passion to translate the promise of the Abraham Accords document into a living, breathing, practical reality.

Now, here in Bahrain’s capital, he has done it again, with very little staff and resources but a laser-like focus and the heart and energy of a diplomatic entrepreneur.

Part of our conversations with Na’eh was not on the record. This was so we could really get to know him, his background, his experience in the region and his candid perspective on a wide range of matters.

But I also interviewed him on the record for ALL ARAB NEWS and ALL ISRAEL NEWS, and I must say I was impressed by his command of the issues and understanding of the nuances of the region. 

“We really are living in a New Middle East,” he told me.

“Sometimes, I have to pinch myself to see if this is all real. If you’d told me a few years ago that I’d be part of opening Israeli embassies in two Gulf countries, I never would have believed you.”

PRAISING THE COURAGE OF THE KING 

Na’eh has the highest praise for Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa.

“His Majesty is a man of great vision and courage,” he told me. 

Despite the relentless threats from the Iranian regime – which is barely 100 miles away across the Gulf – Na’eh said the King chose to make peace with Israel “because he believes it’s the right thing to do.”

“He deserves far more credit than he is getting.”

Israeli Ambassador to Bahrain Eitan Na’eh briefs an Evangelical delegation led by Joel Rosenberg in Manama, April 22, 2022. (Photo: All Arab News)

40 BILATERAL AGREEMENTS SIGNED ALREADY 

Just since Na’eh opened the embassy, Bahrain and Israel have signed some 40 bilateral agreements covering trade, investments and a range of other matters.

There are direct flights between Manama and Tel Aviv.

There is direct phone service between the two countries.

And there is much more in the pipeline.

Naftali Bennett became the first Israeli prime minister in history to make a state visit here.

Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz became the first Israeli foreign and defense ministers, respectively, to make visits here.

Other Israeli ministers have come, and more are planning trips.

What’s more, Na’eh told me that he is planning the first-ever celebration of Israeli Independence Day, inviting Bahraini business, government, religious and civic leaders to the event next month, even as he has been eager to participate in events special to Bahrainis, including Iftar dinners during Ramadan.

“WHY NOT US?”

I was especially encouraged by how much time he’s spending meeting with young Arabs who don’t necessarily agree with him but thank him for helping them understand Israel’s perspective.

Indeed, one of the reasons he’s so passionate about making the Abraham Accords succeed is not only to boost Israeli tourism, trade, investments and security — all vitally important.

He also wants to inspire other Arab young people throughout the Middle East to look at the success of Bahrain and the UAE and ask, Why not us?”

That is, if the Bahrainis and Emiratis and Moroccans and others can benefit from normal relations with Israel, why shouldn’t we benefit, too? 

DON’T BE COMPLACENT: IRAN THREAT LOOMING

Na’eh thanked our Evangelical delegation for our prayers and support for the Abraham Accords, and told me how grateful he is that so many of the world’s 600 million Evangelical Christians take seriously the biblical command to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” as found in Psalm 122.

He also thanked those of us involved in Christian media for being dedicated to speaking the truth during a time of so much “fake news and outright lies.”

Yet he warned us not to become complacent.

“Iran is the mother of all problems,” he said. “They are trying to build nuclear weapons. They are supporting terror throughout the region. They are inciting violence on the Temple Mount. And they are trying to destroy the Abraham Accords.” 

And that’s how Iran acts without possessing nuclear weapons. Just imagine Tehran with The Bomb, he said.

“That’s what concerns Israeli leaders, and Bahraini leaders, and the Emiratis, and others in the region – Iran unhinged.”

“It’s not the Iranian people – they’re not the problem,” he insisted. “It’s the Iranian regime.”

He asked us to keep telling the truth about those who are good in the Middle East – those who are working hard to advance peace, prosperity, security and religious freedom and tolerance — and those who are evil. 

And don’t stop praying, he added – true peacemakers need the prayers of Christians now more than ever. 

 

Share this article