Home inContext Unrest in Bahrain: Internal Defiance or Iranian Provocation?

Unrest in Bahrain: Internal Defiance or Iranian Provocation?

Samara Greenberg

Bahrain’s interior minister vowed to extinguish what he called the “fire of terrorism” last Wednesday as protests by Shiite Muslims in the small Gulf state continued on for a second week. Since authorities rounded up some 160 Shiite opposition activists in a series of arrests that began August 13, Bahrain has faced unrest and daily clashes. While government officials claim the arrested admitted to receiving international money to support groups which “incite violence” and terrorism, analysts argue the crack-down is aimed at intimidating the country’s majority Shiite population before the upcoming contentious parliamentary elections, scheduled for October 23.

Other recent incidents of concern have also occurred in Bahrain. According to Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Qabas, Bahraini intelligence agencies this month arrested 250 people suspected of belonging to a terror network operating in the country and coordinating with sleeper cells in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. According to the report, the suspects belong “to a military body of a state in the region” and are connected to other armed terror cells that are prepared to stage attacks if Iran’s nuclear facilities are targeted.

Burning tires obstructed traffic last week on the outskirts of Manama.

But even more disturbing, in a seeming bow to Iran’s power and influence over Manama, Bahraini Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa said last week that his country will not allow the United States to attack Iran from its military base. Bahrain hosts the headquarters of the U.S. Fifth Fleet and Naval Forces Central Command, whose mission is to “deter and counter disruptive countries,” words likely aimed at Tehran, which often claims Bahrain as Iranian territory.

It remains unclear if these incidents are related, and, if so, if they illustrate internal unrest in Bahrain or are another case in which Iran is supporting dissidents or militants in Arab countries. Either way, as Bahrain’s opposition leaders argue, the United States has turned a blind eye to the recent violence in Bahrain because of Manama’s importance to U.S. security interests.

However, specifically for this reason, the U.S. should be concerned with the reports coming out of Bahrain. An unstable Bahrain can only make for an unstable Centcom, which, as Iran continues down its path of resistance, is not an issue the United States wants to face today. Indeed, the U.S. should quietly advise and aid Manama in calming the country’s tensions for both the sake of U.S. security interests in the region, and for the lives of the people living in Bahrain today.