Manama
© AFP/Marwan Naamani
Capital of Bahrain, Manama
Israel has actually been operating a secret diplomatic office in Bahrain for more than a decade before the two nations penned a peace deal that normalized relations last month, according to a new Axios report.

Axios has revealed that since 2009, a front company called The Center for International Development has provided a secret window into Manama and enabled hundreds of Israeli business deals, the brainchild of then-Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa and then-Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. However, according to the outlet, the center changed its name somewhere along the way, and the new name is classified.

According to the outlet, the facility was staffed exclusively by Israeli diplomats with dual citizenship, many of whom went on to other posts in the Israeli Foreign Ministry once they left "employment" in Bahrain. They all had elaborate backstories that included fake work histories on CV hosting and networking site LinkedIn.

Axios notes only a small group of Bahraini officials knew about the facility's existence, but were constantly afraid of the news getting out.

Until September 2020, Israel had no formal diplomatic relationship with the Persian Gulf island nation, which - along with every other Arab nation at the time - refused to recognize Israel as a legitimate state after it declared independence from the United Kingdom in 1948 and waged a four-sided war against Egypt, Jordan, Syria and the Palestinians.

Manama joined Abu Dhabi in formally recognizing Israel in a deal orchestrated by the United States and signed at the White House on September 15. According to one Israeli official, setting up the official embassy in Manama now is easy: "All we have to do is change the sign on the door."

The idea of a de facto embassy to get around a lack of formal relations has been practiced by many countries, but perhaps most notoriously by the United States and Taiwan, the latter of which does not enjoy formal diplomatic recognition by Washington, which recognizes the People's Republic of China as the sole legitimate representative of the Chinese people.

Since the US switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, Taiwan has operated the Coordination Council for North American Affairs in Washington, DC, which changed its name last year to the Taiwan Council for US Affairs, dropping the pretense of being apolitical. Likewise, the US operates the American Institute in Taiwan, which serves as its de facto embassy. In 2019, it was revealed that US Marines had been doing guard duty at the institute since 2005, as they do at official embassies.