Israeli president Herzog plans first visit to Bahrain

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israeli President Isaac Herzog said on Thursday he would be the first Israeli head of state to travel to Bahrain with a visit to the kingdom planned during a tour of the Gulf next month.

Israel normalised diplomatic relations with Bahrain and its Gulf neighbour the United Arab Emirates (UAE) two years ago under U.S. sponsorship.

Bahrain already hosted an Israeli prime minister earlier this year when Naftali Bennett made a two-day visit to Manama, highlighting an increasing Israeli presence in the Gulf amid tensions with regional power Iran.

The presidency in Israel is largely a ceremonial post, but Herzog has assumed a more prominent role since there has not been a stable government for several years.

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came out on top in a parliamentary election earlier this month, the country's fifth in less than four years, but he has yet to form a government.

Herzog, according to his office, will make a state visit to Bahrain at the invitation of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. He will then travel to the UAE where he will meet President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

Israel and Bahrain are negotiating a free trade agreement that they hope to finalize by the end of the year.

(Reporting by Ari RabinovitchEditing by David Goodman and Toby Chopra)


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