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Bahrain Could Be the Next Target of Iranian Expansion

Jan. 31 2018

The island nation of Bahrain is allied with the U.S. and Saudi Arabia; it is also a Shiite-majority country governed by a narrow Sunni elite. Through 2011, restive Shiites periodically rioted or engaged in low-grade terror: throwing Molotov cocktails and setting off bombs meant to frighten rather than to kill or maim. But since then, the armed opposition has grown more sophisticated, relying on small, harder to penetrate cells, carefully planned attacks, and far more sophisticated and deadly explosives. Michael Knights and Matthew Levitt see much evidence of support from Iran and Hizballah:

Since 2011, Iran and its proxy militias in Lebanon and Iraq have mounted an unprecedented effort to train, activate, and resupply cells ready to set off improvised explosive devices (IEDs) inside Bahrain. Following the military suppression of Arab Spring protests in Bahrain, a number of Shiite youths traveled abroad to receive Iranian training in camps and battlefronts in Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria. Iran’s effort brought significant quantities of military high explosives into Bahrain and assisted Bahraini cells in developing workshops capable of churning out reliable, remote-controlled IEDs. Bahraini militants [also] have emerged as a smaller, tempered movement with better operational security.

Knights and Levitt suggest that Tehran may be waiting for general unrest, as during the 2011 Arab Spring, to activate the various cells it is cultivating in Bahrain—the same strategy it employed to foment and exploit chaos in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Or the plan could be to use Bahrain as a springboard to Saudi Arabia:

Located across a 25-kilometer causeway from Bahrain, the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia is a predominantly Shiite area that holds more than 20 percent of the world’s total proven oil reserves and serves as the center of the kingdom’s oil and petrochemicals industries. The Shiite population has become more restive in recent years. . . .

The [recent] increase in violence in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province is even more notable than in Bahrain. In 2014-2015, there were just four attacks on security forces, all shooting incidents that left a total of five officers dead and three wounded. In 2016-2017, the number of attacks jumped to 24, with 18 killed and 39 wounded, with an even balance of shootings and bomb attacks. The importation of IEDs from Bahrain may be one factor in this change. . . .

On November 10, 2017, Bahraini militants may have acted on their intent [to bring their operations to Saudi Arabia] by bombing a key pipeline . . . supplying Saudi Arabian crude to the Bahrain Petroleum Company refinery.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Bahrain, Hizballah, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Saudi Arabia

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen