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Israel says it expects Bahrain and Oman to follow UAE in formalising ties

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Bahrain and Oman could be the next Gulf countries to follow the United Arab Emirates in formalising ties with Israel, Israel’s intelligence minister said on Sunday.

Israel and the UAE announced on Thursday that they will normalise diplomatic relations, reshaping Middle East politics from the Palestinian issue to the fight against Iran.

“In the wake of this agreement will come additional agreements, both with more Gulf countries and with Muslim countries in Africa,” Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen told Army Radio.

“I think that Bahrain and Oman are definitely on the agenda. In addition, in my assessment, there is a chance that already in the coming year there will be a peace deal with additional countries in Africa, chief among them, Sudan,” he said.

Both Bahrain and Oman praised the U.S.-sponsored accord, but neither have commented on their own prospects for normalised relations or responded to requests for comment on the subject.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met with Omani and Sudanese leaders in the past two years, including a visit to Oman in October 2018.

“I expect more countries will be joining us in the peace circle,” Netanyahu told cabinet ministers on Sunday, according to a statement from his office.

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“This is a historic change which advances peace with the Arab world and will eventually advance a real, sober and secure peace with the Palestinians,” he said.

The UAE-Israel deal firms up opposition to regional power Iran. The Palestinians denounced the deal as a betrayal.

UAE and Israeli foreign ministers held their first publicly-acknowledged call on Sunday after the Gulf state opened telephone lines to Israel.

Israel signed peace agreements with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. But the UAE, along with most other Arab nations, has had no formal diplomatic or economic relations with it.

Oman maintains friendly ties with both the United States and Iran and has previously been a go-between for the two feuding countries.

A close ally of Saudi Arabia - which has not yet commented on the UAE-Israel accord - Bahrain hosted a senior Israeli official at a security conference in 2019 as well as a U.S-led conference on boosting the Palestinian economy as part U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace initiative.

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Government sources in Kuwait said its position towards Israel is unchanged, and it will be the last country to normalise relations, local newspaper al-Qabas reported.

Reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem and Alexander Cornwell and Lisa Barrington in Dubai; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Toby Chopra