US AIR FORCES CENTRAL COMMAND: Photo shows US soldiers standing next to an F-35A Lightning II stationed at the Emirati Al-Dhafra base, about 32 kilometers south of Abu Dhabi. - AFP

DUBAI: Bahrain said it had agreed to allow UAE flights to and from Israel to overfly the kingdom, a day after a similar decision was announced by Saudi Arabia. The announcements come after a US-Israeli delegation visited Abu Dhabi on Monday, on the first direct commercial flight from Tel Aviv to mark the normalization of ties between the Jewish state and the United Arab Emirates. Bahrain, like Saudi Arabia, has no official diplomatic relations with Israel, but their decision to allow overflights marks a sign of cooperation with the Jewish state.

"Bahrain will allow all flights coming to and departing from the United Arab Emirates to all countries to cross its airspace," reported the official Bahrain News Agency, citing an official source at the Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications. The UAE and Israel have agreed to normalize ties in a US-brokered agreement announced last month by President Donald Trump, making the Emirates the first Gulf country to establish diplomatic relations with the Jewish state and only the third Arab nation to do so.

'Matter of timing'
Contacts between Bahrain - the first Gulf country to welcome the UAE-Israel deal - and the Jewish state date back to the 1990s. Bahrain, like most other Gulf countries, shares with Israel a common enemy in Iran, which Manama accuses of instigating protests by the nation's Shiite Muslim community against the ruling Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty.

The UAE's decision to normalize ties with Israel has been welcomed by some Arab countries, but despite cheerleading from the US, others have rejected the idea and many approach it with caution. The Palestinians have condemned the deal as a stab in the back by a major Arab player while they still lack a state of their own. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was on a Middle East visit last month, expressed optimism that more Arab nations will sign up.

Analysts say that Bahrain is one of the most likely countries to follow in the footsteps of the UAE. "I believe Bahrain will be next to normalize relations with Israel," Cinzia Bianco, a research fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told AFP earlier this week. "It's mostly a matter of timing and incentives to do so." White House advisor Jared Kushner visited Bahrain on Tuesday, a week after a visit by Pompeo, as the US tries to seize on the momentum of the UAE's move.

He met with King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, who said stability in the region relied on Saudi Arabia, according to state media. Regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia, while not condemning the deal, has refused to normalize ties until Israel signs an internationally recognized peace accord with the Palestinians. Under the accord, Israel agreed to suspend its planned annexations in the occupied West Bank -- but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted the plans remain on the table.- AFP