Haggai Carmon: Attorney and Author

The Riots in Bahrain: Not Another Domino Stone

Huffington Post Op Ed 2/21/2011

Many have misread the recent eruption of riots in the streets of Manama, capital of the tiny, oil-rich Persian Gulf island state of Bahrain.

The government of Bahrain points an accusing finger at Iran. They say that the riots in Bahrain resulted from a well-planned sinister master plan of Iran — a next door neighbor — to topple the government. There’s more than a grain of truth in that accusation.

At first, the riots in Bahrain were perceived as another shaking Domino piece in the trembling Middle East, perpetrated by people demanding freedom and bread.

That is not the case in Bahrain.

Bahrain is neither Egypt nor Tunisia where poverty and oppression sent people to the streets. Bahrain is the most liberal of the Gulf States with a per capita gross domestic product of $40,400, the world’s 19th highest, although its population numbers only 764,000, ranking the 163rd in the world.

Political and military observers say that culprit in the current Bahrain riots is Iran, for a reason: In 2001 Saddam Hussein announced that Kuwait was in fact the 19th province of Iraq, and his army invaded Kuwait. That was the official cause for the first Gulf War. Now there are official and public voices in Iran claiming Bahrain is the 14th Province of Iran.

Therefore, it is clear why Iran has a strong interest in political change in Bahrain. Its veiled agenda is to overthrow the Sunni Muslim regime of the King, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, and replace it with a Shia Muslim loyal to Tehran. Bahrain has 70% Shiite majority, who are very politically engaged and follow Shite Iran. The Shia majority in Bahrain is significantly underrepresented politically and discontent at how 2,000 family members of the King and his circle deal themselves the best cards. Bahrain is the hub of the U.S. 5th Fleet in the Persian Gulf and of a major British fleet. It is also a major banking and trade facility for the region. Bahrain’s oil production at about 40,000 barrels per day, and it natural gas sales, provide about 60% of its budget revenues. With those numbers, and with Iran ogling Bahrain’s oil reserves and strategic location strongly coveted by the U.S — the Iranians seem to have two goals. The first — send a clear message to the U.S.: You stir riots in Iran — an accusation the U.S denies — then we’ll wreck your strategic ally, Bahrain. That is not a small threat.

But even without wanting to get even for riots in Iran, Tehran has always had an independent agenda regarding Bahrain. That’s the second reason for Iran’s move to agitate the regime in Bahrain. The alleged subversive Iranian involvement in Bahrain this week is not new. Last summer the Bahrain government arrested 165 Shiites and accused them of being a part of “a sophisticated terror group supported internationally,” that was trying to topple the regime by force. That was not a new isolated incidence. In 1981, just two years after the Islamic revolution in Tehran, there were Shiite attempts to overthrow Bahrain’s government, and in 1995 there were Shiite riots in Bahrain, both supported by Iran. In 1996 an Iranian diplomat with contacts to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards was ousted from Bahrain for “undiplomatic” activities. Six individuals appeared on Bahrain TV and admitted that they were trained by Hezbollah in Lebanon, and received orders from an Iranian intelligence officer.

That pattern of Iranian involvement was repeated in 2005 when a Shiite crowed demonstrated in Manama in support of Iran’s supreme leader. In 2008 the Shiite demonstrations took a turn when demonstrators demanded the removal of the U.S 5th Fleet from Bahrain.

Again and again, the foot prints of Hezbollah, Iran’s terrorist organization subsidiary and dirty jobs contractor were visible in subversive activities in Bahrain.

If the Iranian plans to oust the Bahrain government and appoint a loyal head of state in his place succeed, their multiple goals would be achieved without any military movement. The Iranians will cause the ousting of the threatening 5th Fleet from Manama port. They will hold a strategic point near the straits of Hormuz where 20% of the U.S oil supply passes, and they will signal to the other Gulf states with Shiite population — such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to get in line with Iran, or else.

This is a challenge the U.S. cannot ignore.