Bangladesh lifted its travel ban to Israel on Saturday, joining other Muslim-majority countries in doing so, indicating a change in Bangla-Israel relations. Since the Abrahamic accords, Israel has been keenly intensifying its relations with the Arab world and it was evident with the muted criticism of Israel during the latest showdown between Israeli and Hamas forces. It seems that Bangladesh is now approaching the Israel-Palestine issue in a new light and it could become the first South Asian Nation to join the Abraham Accords.
According to the Bangladeshi news site ‘Weekly blitz,’ Bangladeshi passports that previously read ‘This passport is valid for all countries for the world except Israel’ now read ‘This passport is valid for all countries for the world.’ Bangladesh, which supports an independent Palestinian state, is one of 26 countries that have refused to recognize Israel as a state in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
According to sources, Bangladeshi Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan has announced that, per international standards, passports would no longer include any limitations on travel to Israel. Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister, AK Abdul Momen, told reporters, however, that the country does not recognize Israel. Salah Choudhury, the editor of the Weekly Blitz, was also arrested in 2009 for attempting to fly to Tel Aviv for a writers’ conference in 2003. Later, he was charged with “sedition, treason, and heresy,” and was sentenced to seven years in jail.
Hailing the lifting of the ban, Israeli Ambassador Gilad Cohen tweeted, “Great news! Bangladesh has removed the travel ban to Israel. This is a welcome step & I call on the Bangladeshi government to move forward and establish diplomatic ties with Israel so both our peoples could benefit & prosper”. Bangladesh has never recognized Israel since its independence in 1971 and a shift in stance may trigger economic trade and technological cooperation, say experts.
Great news! #Bangladesh has removed travel ban to Israel. This is a welcome step & I call on the Bangladeshi government to move forward and establish diplomatic ties with #Israel so both our peoples could benefit & prosper.@IsraelMFA #IsraelLooksEast https://t.co/LbOLbm9dfG
— Gilad Cohen 🇮🇱 (@GiladCohen_) May 22, 2021
However, it seems Israel and Bangladesh had been having cordial and friendly relations for quite some time. According to an investigative report by Al Jazeera in February, the two countries seem to have been friendly for a few years, but in secret, because Muslim Bangladesh does not recognise Israel and prohibited its citizens from visiting it until now.
At the time, Bangladesh vehemently denied the report. But If Al-Jazeera’s claim is right, the country’s military intelligence is already using PicSix’s passive cell phone tracking and interception systems. Israeli technology will meet Dhaka’s strategic needs, whether it’s being used to monitor the activities of opposition parties or the various security threats that the South Asian country faces due to its geographic location.
Although Bangladesh has denied any links to Israel, it has not denied possessing the P6 Interception tool, which is manufactured by the aforementioned Israeli company based in Even Yehuda.
Apart from that, Dhaka is genuinely interested in learning more about Israel’s arms trade with Myanmar since Myanmar is Bangladesh’s primary physical security threat. According to a United Nations fact-finding mission, Israel was one of seven countries that supplied Myanmar’s military with arms to launch a series of attacks against Rohingya Muslims in 2017, causing about 800,000 refugees to flee into Bangladesh. Shortly after Bangladesh purchased and commissioned two Chinese-made submarines, Israel Aerospace Industries shipped two attack frigates to Myanmar.
And now Bangladesh has carved itself an opportunity to have better relations with Israel which could turn into diplomatic relations too. Furthermore, Bangladesh, which was previously a Chinese partner, seems to be decoupling from China, and this may be the first step toward it joining the Abraham Accords. Recently, Bangladesh also rebuffed the Chinese threats and warnings to abstain from joining the Quad.
India will undoubtedly play a part in improving relations between Israel and Bangladesh. India-Bangladesh relations have taken a turn for the better and India also backed Israel and condemned Hamas during the recent conflict. Moreover, India shares deep and intricate relation with both states and the bonhomie between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will also be crucial for Bangladesh to have better relations with Israel.
Bangladesh’s action to uplift the ban on Israel is also indicative of a show of support to Israel. The action comes after a unilateral ceasefire called by Netanyahu to halt an 11- day military conflict against Hamas forces in Gaza. This gesture could go a long way in cementing diplomatic ties between the two states and Bangladesh could become the first South Asian Nation to be a part of the Abraham Accords.