President Isaac Herzog arrived in Bahrain on Sunday on a state visit, becoming the first Israeli head of state to do so since the two countries agreed to establish official diplomatic relations in 2020.
Herzog is scheduled to meet with the Gulf state's ruler King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and other officials before departing for the United Arab Emirates.
"This is another historic step in the relations between Israel and the Arab world and the strengthening of the Abraham Accords, in the hope that more countries would join the circle of peace," Herzog said before his departure, referring to a series of U.S.-brokered normalization agreements between Israel and several Muslim-majority countries, of which Bahrain is one of the signees.
“I’m accompanied by a delegation of economic experts in order to tighten economic cooperation and promote other issues. Bahrain and its economy are very important and I’m glad I have the chance to further advance our relationship.”
Herzog further said that his message conveys "a message of peace to everyone in the Middle East."
During his visit, Herzog will hold meetings with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and other dignitaries, as well as pay a visit to Bahrain’s Jewish community and the country’s Economic Development Authority.
Herzog will then leave for the United Arab Emirates on Monday, where he will attend the Abu Dhabi Space Debate conference and meet with UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in their fourth meeting to date. Herzog and his Emirati counterpart will discuss strengthening bilateral relations and cooperation between the countries.
"During my State Visit today, together with His Majesty the King and other leaders, we will be working on this task: making sure the benefits of regional friendly relations reach each and every Israeli and Bahraini," Herzog wrote in an article penned for Bahraini press before his visit.
Dozens in Bahrain protested Herzog’s upcoming visit on Saturday and the normalization of relations with Israel. Some of the protesters, who are affiliated with Bahrain’s pro-Iranian political oppositions, chanted “death to Israel”, and waved signs calling Herzog a “criminal.”
In meetings held over the last few days, the Shin Bet internal security agency, which is also tasked with securing VIPs, opted to significantly beef up Herzog's security detail due to calls from the Bahraini opposition to boycott and disrupt the visit. Security officials in Bahrain have implemented similar measures.
While authorities in Bahrain have allowed the protests to take place, any such demonstrations were banned on the day of the visit itself.
Israel and Bahrain first agreed to establish diplomatic ties in 2020 as part of the Abraham Accords after years of hush-hush communications.
Besides Herzog, several other Israeli officials have visited the Gulf state, including Prime Minister Yair Lapid, former prime minister Naftali Bennett, Defense Minster Benny Gantz, and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi.