Israel’s Communications Minister Ayoub Kara has confirmed having met with a Bahraini prince in Tel Aviv.
“I met publicly for the first time in Tel Aviv with Mubarak Al Khalifa, the prince of Bahrain, in order to strengthen the relationship between our two countries,” Kara tweeted on his personal account on Sunday, boasting of the meeting as a sign of growing relations with Manama, which publicly poses as Tel Aviv’s traditional foe.
“On Monday I will also have the honor of welcoming him to Israel’s Knesset,” he added, also posting a photo of the royal guest grinning next to him.
The Times of Israel, however, says the foreign ministry has not confirmed a visit by any Bahraini national to Israel. The report even said “the Bahraini government and royal websites include no mention of any living member of the royal family who goes by the name Mubarak Al Khalifa.”
The office of the Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein said it was not aware of any visit to the parliament by a Bahraini official either.
But, the Kan public broadcaster reported that the man who appeared in the photo had told the news station that he was a distant member of the Bahraini royal family currently living in London and that he was visiting Israel on a “private trip” to see friends.
Kara declined media requests to comment on the visit.
Arab states have traditionally been depicting themselves as Israel’s enemies and supporters of the Palestinian cause against Tel Aviv’s occupation.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has admitted that his regime has ties with the Arab world, and that the relations are improving.
Late last year, media reports suggested that a Bahraini delegation had arrived in Israel with a message from the country's king.
In September, Israeli media said Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah had called at an event hosted by pro-Israeli group Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles for an end to the Arab boycott of Israel, and the establishment of diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv.
Israeli tourists and businessmen have been traveling to Bahrain in recent years.
In 2016, the tiny kingdom became the only Persian Gulf country to publicly mourn the death of former Israeli president Shimon Peres.
Also in 2016, Bahraini officials raised eyebrows by hosting and participating in the Israeli Hanukkah celebration.
Meanwhile, leaks obtained by WikiLeaks showed that senior officials from Israel and Bahrain had spoken in recent years. They cited a 2007 meeting between then Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni and Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa in New York.
In 2005, the Bahraini king boasted to an American official that his state had contacts with Israel “at the intelligence/security level,” WikiLeaks’ findings suggested.