Counter-Terrorism: Iran Quietly Moves On Bahrain

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September 13, 2010: Bahrain's Sunni leaders are increasing efforts to round up Shia citizens, and foreigners, believed to be plotting to overthrow the government. Although Bahrain won't accuse Iran publicly, many Bahrainis believes that Iran is involved. Most Bahrainis are Shia, and Iranian leaders openly express their belief that Bahrain is Iran's 14th province. Bahrain's Sunni king is also concerned that the Iranians are trying to interfere with the elections next month. The parliament is limited by royal power, but able provide a platform for reformers, or Islamic conservatives. The political situation in Kuwait is similar, which is one reason the Kuwaitis openly support the Bahraini government.

Last month, Bahrain warned Kuwait and Saudi Arabia that it had uncovered a plot involving hundreds of sleeper agents, organized into 40-50 cells. The agents, often poor locals, as well as men from Iran, Yemen and Lebanon, were financed by religious leaders and Islamic political parties. The plan was to launch coordinated attacks in Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Bahrain proceeded to arrest and question 250 suspects. Kuwait put the usual suspects under greater scrutiny, and Saudi Arabia said nothing. Bahrain said the attacks were to be carried out if Iran were attacked (presumably by Israel.) Kuwait continues to openly support Bahrain in fighting this Shia conspiracy.

It's unclear if all this is related to internal unrest in Bahrain, or is another of many cases where Iranians (who are not Arab, but ethnically related to Europeans and Indians)  have been caught supporting dissidents or terrorists in Arab countries. Bahrain itself is an island kingdom off the coast of Saudi Arabia. Population is only 700,000, and a third of those are foreigners (non-Arab). The native Arab population is 70 percent Shia, but the Sunni minority runs the country, and the economy. The Shia are more religious and culturally conservative. This often leads to unrest, and most of the recently arrested terrorist suspects were also Shia active in criticizing the government.

One of the Shia (and Iranian) complaints is that Bahrain has long been pro-West, mainly as a way to prevent takeover by Iran (or mainland Arabs). Bahrain is currently the main base for the U.S. 5th Fleet, and a major American military facility in the region. Locally, Bahrain replaced Beirut as the most popular Arab banking center, during the 1975-90 Lebanese civil war. More importantly, you can get a drink, and much else, in Bahrain, thus it is also a major tourist destination, mainly for Saudis looking for some relief from the lifestyle police back home.

Bahrain evolved into a major American base in the Persian Gulf, hosting about 3,000 U.S. personnel. During the 1990s, Bahrain began providing port facilities for destroyers and frigates enforcing the Iraqi embargo, and other support for the U.S. carrier task force that operates in the Persian Gulf. The Bahrain air base of Sheik Isa was fitted out to support about a hundred U.S. warplanes. Britain bases aerial tankers in Bahrain as well.

Earlier this year, the Bahraini government revealed that it had sent troops to help their American allies in Afghanistan. Many other Arab nations have done this, but kept it quiet. These Arab troops, usually commandoes or intelligence specialists, have been useful in uncovering Iranian covert operations in Afghanistan. And this may be why Iran is stirring the political pot in Bahrain.

 

 


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