In an article in Al-Arabiya on January 22, by Tony Duheaume, Middle East analyst, Freelance Columnist, and author, he writes about the Iran’s threat to Bahrain and the Gulf States.
“The Iranian mullah administration looks upon the Gulf leaders with great suspicion, as it perceives both Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf States as proxies of United States’ interests in the Middle East, and has always wanted to see the downfall of the Gulf monarchies, with an Iranian-style Islamic republic installed to replace them. But besides this, the mullahs also lay claim to Bahrain, which the Iranian leadership still perceives as sovereign Iranian territory,” he writes.
Iran declared Bahrain to be its 14th province, not long after Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in 1979. Later, in February 2009,an advisor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Ali Akbar Nuri, announced that until Bahrain’s independence, the kingdom was represented in the Iranian parliament as Iran’s 14th province, and in the eyes of the regime’s clerical leadership, it still is.
Mass anti-government riots took place in Tunisia, in December 2010, and countries like Algeria, Jordan, Egypt and Yemen began felt the fallout, as the insurrection spread across the region, and governments were being shaken or overthrown. The Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14, 2011. Following this, on February 11, Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak resigned. The stirrings of dissent reached Syria that same month. Mass demonstrations took place in Bahrain, and on August 23, came the overthrow of Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi. The Arab Spring was in full swing.
Protests, demonstrations, and uprisings continued across the region, but it was the upheaval in Egypt and Bahrain that unsettled the Gulf nations especially, as Saudi Arabia’s near neighbor and ally Bahrain faced mass protests from the country’s Shia community, whipped up by a pro-Iranian political group.
“With Bahrain’s anti-monarchist Shia opposition Al Wefaq leading the protests, the Bahraini government picked up intelligence of a Hezbollah presence on the streets, stirring up rioters, and with broadcasts coming through Hezbollah’s radio network, egging the protestors on, the situation became ever more sinister,” writes Duheaume, adding, “With Hezbollah being a known proxy of the Iranian regime, which would never make such moves without the blessing of its Iranian backers, it all pointed to Iran being the main instigator of these riots. The regime’s operatives are experts in concealing their true identity and allegiance, they infiltrate various institutions, including Shia political organizations or Human rights groups, and through rigorous training, which they receive at Quds Force training camps in Iran or Lebanon, they have perfected the art of penetrating various groups, as well as the recruitment of volunteers to aid their cause.”
Duheaume says that Quds Force training camps are sophisticated facilities, who have potential recruits enter a host country through a third country to avoid detection. Recruits are carefully vetted, and are ideologically sound, and for infiltration, trainees are chosen from the targeted nation, so as not to stand out or cause suspicion.
Most alarming are past statements made by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, promising to protect Shia communities across the globe. Additionally, Iran has continued to occupy the three United Arab Emirate islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb since 1971, proving that invasion by the regime could still be a possibility.
The Khobar Towers attack in Saudi Arabia on June 25, 1996, in which a 19 US servicemen were killed, and injured 498 people of various nationalities, pointed towards Hezbollah’s potential if it decided to strike inside the Kingdom.
Duheaume writes, “So with Hezbollah being an active proxy force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and the Quds Force, whose remit is planning and conducting attacks outside of Iran, the authorities in Bahrain knew that Iran had the means to strike, and would go to any lengths to use their terror puppet to undermine the political systems of the Gulf, which made the Bahrain riots a wakeup call for the Saudis.” He continues, “As the Arab Spring took hold, so did the violent turmoil, which many countries still reeling from it to this day. So not wanting to have an Iranian instigated uprising spread to its own kingdom, Saudi Arabia sent its army into Bahrain at the request of the Bahraini government to help quell the 2011 rioting, and restore order to the streets.”
At a time when Iranian influence seemed to be on the wane, the Arab Spring gave the Iranian leadership a confidence boost, Khamenei was convinced the uprisings were an Islamic awakening, inspired by Iran’s 1979 revolution. The was the point when Khamenei felt certain that the Gulf monarchies would be next. Convinced that American influence in the area severely weakened, he was sure Iran would be able step in to fill the power vacuum.
Having already suffered 128 terrorist operations in the past 15 years, Saudi Arabia’s administration has become very vigilant as to any form of extremist activity in both Bahrain and on its own territory.
A terror cell of Hezbollah activity in Bahrain was broken up recently, in 2016, when two brothers, who were said to have been members of the outlawed Al Wafa Islamic Movement, were liaising with leaders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah.They were provided with $30,000 a month to aid them in setting up a new Iranian-backed terror group named Al Basta (The Gathering), meant to coordinate attacks to overthrow the Bahrain government. One of the brothers told how they had been in touch with members of the group that carried out a fatal bombing in the Shi’ite village of Sitra, in July 2015, killing two policemen and injured six others. He said that his other brother had travelled to Iran, stayed for two years, and became a go-between for Al Wafa in Bahrain and the Iranian regime, feeding intelligence to the IRGC about the current situation in Bahrain.
Vladimir Putin’s backing of the Iranian regime in Syria, allowed Bashar al-Assad to regain ground, and Aleppo fell to the Syrian regime. With their military revitalised with various forms of hi-tech weaponry, Iran was becoming much bolder, which was highlighted by threats coming from senior IRGC commanders, as their rhetoric became more warlike.
During a visit to Syria in June 2016, Maj. Gen. Qassim Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force, threatened repercussions after Bahrain’s leading Shia cleric had been stripped of citizenship. The repercussions, As Soleimani saw it, repercussions would come in the form of armed resistance by the Shia community, and said “Al Khalifa will definitely pay the price for that and their bloodthirsty regime will be toppled.”
According to Hossein Salami, the deputy commander of the IRGC, the fall of Aleppo was the start of an ongoing military campaign in the region, eventually extending to the liberation of Bahrain, including an operation to secure a victory in Mosul, and taking control of the country from the government in Yemen, and giving control to Iran’s Houthi allies.
All of this points to a very dangerous time to come.