In a stunning admission, Sheikh Khaled Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa, Foreign Minister of Bahrain, acknowledged the historical legitimacy of the state Israel, telling Israeli interviewer Barak Ravid, “Israel is a country in the Middle East. It is part of the heritage of this region. The Jewish people has a place amongst us.”
Al-Khalifa began the interview, which took place in Manama on June 26 during the United States’ conference on Palestinian economic development, on a high note, stating, “This is my first with an Israeli media channel and let’s hope we can get the message through.”
Ravid asserted, “This is an unordinary event — Arab foreign minister sitting down with an Israeli journalist. What made you decide to do it?”
Al-Khalifa answered, “It should have happened a long time ago. Talking with people you differ with is always a step that would lead to easing up tensions. We have always wanted to solve the Arab-Israeli dispute or the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. We always missed the communication. Talking directly to the Israeli public and through their own media. And we didn’t want to miss this opportunity here since we have this workshop.”
Ravid asked, “If there is one message to the Israeli public — what would it be?”
Al-Khalifa replied with an answer that was extraordinary in its recognition of the legitimacy of the state of Israel: “Yes, you do have peace with Egypt and Jordan and some kind of understandings with the Palestinians. But this is not the limit of the scope of where you belong. Israel is a country in the Middle East. It is part of the heritage of this region. The Jewish people has a place amongst us. So communication needs to be a prerequisite for solving all the dispute. We should talk.”
Ravid pointed that the Palestinians had boycotted the conference: “Let’s talk about this workshop here about the Palestinian economy. Do you think the Palestinians made a mistake not showing up?”
Al-Khalifa said, “It is always a mistake not showing up to any effort … to alleviate the lives and the troubles of people. And it is always a mistake to miss an opportunity to achieve peace. Yes, this is an economic workshop. Yes, this has nothing to do with the (political) peace plan the U.S. will propose. But this was an opportunity that we wanted to see them here, but they chose not to come.”
After stating that he had tried to convince the Palestinians to come, Al-Khalifa lauded the efforts by the Trump administration to bring peace to the region: “I think this workshop is very important for the region. It’s the next big thing happening after the Camp David summit when President Sadat first visited Israel and then achieved a peace agreement. Since then, peace with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world other than Egypt and Jordan hasn’t been achieved. This is the next big move that, if supported by all the parties to the conflict, will have a chance to succeed … it would take more than the U.S. — it would take the countries of the region to work together. And it will not be a good idea to shun the role of the U.S. in the peace process.
Later, Al-Khalifa added, “The Israeli public need to trust that there are countries in the region that do want to have peace and do encourage the Palestinians to do it. And we want the Arabs to feel that Israel is a country that belongs here. We may not have normalization or diplomatic relations — yet — but we know that it’s a country that exists and its people do want peace.”
Ravid asked about Bahrain’s position on Iran. Al-Khalifa answered bluntly:
Iran is a major threat to the security and stability of the region. I don’t want to use the word Iran. It’s the Islamic republic. It’s this regime that changed all the dynamics. We used to have a dispute with Iran when they tried to claim our country, but then they understood it wasn’t possible. So they accepted it and became an ally. It didn’t last long. And then after the revolution, they raised those claims again but with the cloak of religion and sect. This is very dangerous and very toxic. That also moved to affect the Arab-Israel dispute. We always knew what we need to address, but when it comes to changing all the rules of the game with an outside player like the Islamic republic and support militias and threatening the security of countries and the stability and takeover of some countries – this give any country, including Israel, the right to defend itself against this aggression. Because we know that if it was left to the Arabs and Israelis, we would have been much closer to peace than today. But Iran is exacerbating the issue with money and weapons and with soldiers of militias.
When asked his reaction if Israel had to attack Iranian forces in Syria, Al-Khalifa said, “What is the role of Iranian forces in Syria? It’s a direct threat to the whole region including Israel. So as I said, every country has a right to defend itself.” When he was asked if Iran and the U.S. are headed for war, Al-Khalifa said Iran was wholly responsible if that were to happen, saying:
If there is a war, god forbid in our region, I will blame the Islamic republic for it before anybody else. They have been calling for war. They have been attacking ships. They have been targeting tankers. Drone attacks from Yemen. They have been calling for war in the region. This is the only way they can survive. This regime only survives with aggression. Only survives with exporting the revolution. Only survives of taking control. So I think the restraint of the U.S. is very wise. But eventually if something happens it because of Iran’s belligerency ad Iran’s attacks and most of the blame will come on them.
Raphael Ahren of The Times of Israel noted the unprecedented hospitality of Bahrain toward the Israel journalists at the conference, writing, “The exceedingly warm way in which Israelis are being received here is a remarkable testament to how times have changed. A small group of citizens of what was once denounced as the ‘Zionist enemy’ has been welcomed with open arms in Bahrain.” He added, “The authorities in the kingdom didn’t hesitate when the U.S. administration asked for a number of Israeli reporters to be accredited to the event. The last time Israeli journalists were officially invited to Bahrain was a quarter century ago.”