Israel opens Bahrain embassy, three years after normalising ties

By Mohammed Hamad

MANAMA (Reuters) - Israel officially opened its embassy in Bahrain on Monday, three years after both sides normalised ties and as Washington presses Riyadh for a similar deal that would be Israel's biggest diplomatic win in the region.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen attended an official ceremony for the opening of the diplomatic mission during a visit to Bahrain which included a delegation of businessmen and government officials.

"The (Bahrain) foreign minister and I agreed that we should work together to increase the number of direct flights, the tourism, the trade volume, the investments," Cohen said during the ceremony.

Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani said the inauguration of the embassy "signifies our shared commitment to security and prosperity for all the peoples of our region".

The normalisation deal between Bahrain and Israel was part of a series of agreements, known as the Abraham Accords, which were also signed with the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Sudan.

Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, is a small island on the Gulf where Saudi Sunni allies, the Al Khalifa royal family, rule over a Shi'ite majority.

Analysts said the rapprochement with Israel was forged partly through shared fears of Iran.

The opening of the Israeli embassy in Bahrain came as the United States is pressing its traditional ally Riyadh to sign a similar deal for Saudi Arabia, a Muslim powerhouse and home to Islam's holiest shrines.

However, Riyadh has so far resisted U.S. pressure and linked the move to the creation of a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, along with other demands.

(Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Christina Fincher)