Why Is Gantz's Visit to Bahrain Important for Iran?
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz made a surprise visit to Bahrain on Wednesday, February 2. The visit was a surprise because it had not been announced in advance that Gantz would be visiting Bahrain on his schedule. Gantz became the first Israeli Defense Minister to officially visit a Gulf country. Concurrently, he made the second high-level official visit to Bahrain on behalf of Israel after the Abraham Accords. As part of his visit, Gantz held talks with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain and his counterpart, Bahraini Defense Minister General Abdullah Bin Hassan al-Noaimi. Within the scope of the talks, the parties reached a Memorandum of Understanding to cooperate in the security, defense, and military fields. The aforementioned MOU included cooperation in the fields of intelligence, procurement of military equipment, defense industry, and military training.
The significance of the Gantz visit stems from its primary role. In addition, the nature of his contacts is noteworthy. As part of the visit, Gantz and his accompany Commander in Chief of the Israeli Navy, David Saar Salama, met with Admiral Brad Cooper, Commander of the US 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces, at the US Central Command's (CENTCOM/NAVCENT) 5th Fleet base in Bahrain. During the meeting, it was stated that Israel's inclusion in CENTCOM, together with the Abraham Accords, is a remarkable move. Again, the emphasis was placed on partnership and cooperation issues in terms of establishing maritime and air security against common threats and the enemy. In particular, it focused on the importance of partnership in the struggle against air and sea threats. Furthermore, Gantz said in his statements regarding the visit, “This [cooperation] is a security need of the first order in light of the growing challenges on the maritime front in particular and in the region in general”.
On the other side, Gantz's visit to Bahrain took place during the recent missile and drone attacks by the Houthis on the UAE, another important Gulf ally of Israel. Coupled with, the visit was made just after the visit of Israeli President Isaac Herzog to the UAE, despite all the air threats. These two successive remarkable visits are under the influence of the threat perceptions posed by Iran's regional activities, especially at sea and in the air, on the Israeli side. Considering the regional context in which the visit took place, Gantz's visit to Bahrain, especially for military and security cooperation, has the characteristics of a message against Iran. Because the visit took place in the context where discussions about Israel's possible military action plans against Iran were raised.
As a matter of fact, there is a distance of approximately 290 km between Bahrain and Iran's Bushehr nuclear facility. Such geographical proximity is quite remarkable at a time when Israel's plans for operations against Iran are often discussed. Accordingly, one of the most considerable difficulties that arise as part of Israel's planning for the possible operation is caused by the disadvantages of not being geographically close to Iran. This conjuncture complicates the logistics supply and post-operation evacuation processes in the planning of the possible operation against Iran. However, establishing security and military cooperation with Bahrain, which is 290 km away from one of Iran's nuclear facilities, may offer operational and functional advantages to Israel.
Picture 1: Distance Between Bahrain-Iran Bushehr Nuclear Facility
In other respects, the degree to which such cooperation can be healthy with Bahrain, which has a Shi'ite population of more than 65 percent, is also a separate test area. Nonetheless, the visit in question can still be considered as a strong message against Iran as air attacks on the UAE continue to increase. Therefore, this visit can also be considered as a step taken to support the UAE in the process. Gantz's contacts in Bahrain align with the steps of the Israel-based military and political alliance, which is trying to be established at the regional level in terms of timing. As a matter of fact, Israel, which has improved its relations with the Gulf countries after the Abraham Accords in approximately one year, tends to strengthen partnership and cooperation on defense and security issues with Bahrain, the UAE and other Gulf countries. In this direction, Israel is laying the foundations of the military and political alliance established against Iran, especially after its inclusion in CENTCOM.