Bahraini authorities have tried to reach a consensus with opposition entities by negotiations, reforms and permitting licensed protests; still, there remains a stiff refusal to countenance Iran’s meddling in the Gulf, or to recognize the ideology of these Tehran-backed groups.
In an article by Baria Alamuddin for Track Persia, a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, he writes, “In the years after 2011, I grew accustomed to receiving a condescending grimace from Western officials when I asked about Iranian terrorism in Bahrain. Often this would earn me a lecture about ‘prisoners of conscience’ and ‘rights to peaceful protest’.”
Today, the Trump administration denounces terrorist entities pushing Iran’s agenda in Bahrain. British leaders have also joined these denunciations.
Alamuddin writes, “The spotlight has fallen on a previously unknown figure, Murtaza Al-Sanadi, who fled to Iran in 2012. Al-Sanadi is the effective leader of the terrorist group Al-Ashtar Brigades, responsible for a string of killings of policemen in Bahrain. Al-Sanadi recruited hundreds of impressionable young men, many radicalized while on pilgrimage or religious study. Along with training by the Revolutionary Guard in Iran, numerous militants traveled to Iraq for training with the Hezbollah Brigades, an Iranian proxy fighting as part of Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi that is complicit in war crimes, including sectarian cleansing and mass summary executions.”
He adds, “As dangerous as learning to build bombs is the poisoning of minds against Arab heritage and nationalism. Differences in religious belief between Shiites and Sunnis are tiny, yet these radicals are brainwashed into a culture of anti-Arab sectarian hatred.”
This issue is rooted in the West’s post-9/11 belief that terrorism is a Sunni phenomenon, according to Alamuddin, who says that while Daesh flaunts its violent acts, “Iranian proxies in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere have been more discreet about the trail of blood they leave behind.”
According to Alamuddin, “It has been relatively easy for Bahraini militants to join bus-loads of pilgrims visiting Iraq and obtain training from the Hezbollah Brigades. Some even temporarily signed up to Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi. An Ahrar Manama division of Bahraini fighters was reported earlier this year.”
Recently, Pakistan’s leaders protested Iran’s policy of recruiting and radicalizing Pakistani and Afghan nationals for the Syria conflict.
Alamuddin states that, “Iran’s strategy toward Bahrain and other Arab states has become more malign and expansive.” He points out that Quds Force Commander Qassim Soleimani boasted in 2015, “We are witnessing the export of the Islamic Revolution throughout the region, from Bahrain and Iraq to Syria, Yemen and North Africa.”
He also says that recently in the news was The Hezbollah Brigades, who tried to take receipt of half a billion dollars in ransom for 24 Qatari hostages it kidnapped in 2015, which is the largest ransom in history. This money was impounded on the orders of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi. “Given the Hezbollah Brigades’ support for Bahraini militants, this ransom money is in effect enabling terrorists to commit mass murder in a fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nation, not to mention encouraging hostage-takers to strike again against high-value regional targets,” writes Alamuddin, who adds, “Among the other catastrophic consequences of this hostage deal are Syrian population swaps. In 2016, it became widely known that Iranian proxies were lobbying hard for a deal that removed Sunnis from the towns of Madaya and Zabadani, between Damascus and the Lebanese border.”
Demographic engineering and sectarian cleansing are war crimes, and those who enable such measures should be conscious of the consequences under international law.
Alamuddin believes that Tehran’s motivations are clear, they seek to control weapons convoys to Hezbollah and the contiguous territory reaching to the Mediterranean. “I speak to Syrians who exclaim that Iran is creating ‘a hundred Palestines'. Does anyone believe that Syrians will simply walk away from land that has been theirs for hundreds of years?” Alamuddin asks.
The US designated Al-Sanadi, as a “global terrorist”. According to Alamuddin, he uses Iranian media outlets to incite “holy war,” and is one of many Arabs who have sold out their nations. “…when Iranian leaders threaten that the US Fifth Fleet could be ‘raised to the ground’, they are not joking,” says Alamuddin.
“In American politics, we are accustomed to policy U-turns every four to eight years, or in Donald Trump’s case from one day to the next. This makes the West ill-equipped to grapple with an Iranian strategy for regional dominance with the patience and tenacity to remain consistent over many decades,” writes Alamuddin, who concludes, “The West may no longer be in denial about Iran’s meddling, but we seem little closer to a coherent strategy for halting its regional stranglehold by dismantling proxy militias and terrorist cells wreaking havoc across the Arab world.”