THE EVENTS IN BAHRAIN: A COMMENT
"MANAMA (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain on Monday to help put down weeks of protests by the Shi'ite Muslim majority, a move opponents of the Sunni ruling family on the island called a declaration of war. Analysts saw the troop movement into Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, as a mark of concern in Saudi Arabia that concessions by the country's monarchy could inspire the conservative Sunni kingdom's own Shi'ite minority.
About 1,000 Saudi soldiers entered Bahrain to protect government facilities, a Saudi official source said, a day after mainly Shi'ite protesters overran police and blocked roads. 'They are part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) force that would guard the government installations,' the source said, referring to the six-member bloc that coordinates military and economic policy in the world's top oil-exporting region.
Bahrain said on Monday it had asked the Gulf troops for support in line with a GCC defence pact. The United Arab Emirates has said it would also respond to the call.
Witnesses saw some 150 armoured troop carriers, ambulances, water tankers and jeeps cross into Bahrain via the 25-km (16-mile) causeway and head towards Riffa, a Sunni area that is home to the royal family and military hospital.
Bahrain TV later showed footage it said was of advance units of the joint regional Peninsula Shield forces that had arrived in Bahrain 'due to the unfortunate events that are shaking the security of the kingdom and terrorising citizens and residents.'
Analysts and diplomats say the largest contingent in any GCC force would come from Saudi Arabia, which is worried about any spillover to restive Shi'ites in its own Eastern Province, the centre of its oil industry.
Bahraini opposition groups including the largest Shi'ite party Wefaq said the move was an attack on defenceless citizens. 'We consider the entry of any soldier or military machinery into the Kingdom of Bahrain's air, sea or land territories a blatant occupation,' they said in a statement.
'This real threat about the entry of Saudi and other Gulf forces into Bahrain to confront the defenceless Bahraini people puts the Bahraini people in real danger and threatens them with an undeclared war by armed troops.' The move came after Bahraini police clashed on Sunday with mostly Shi'ite demonstrators in one of the most violent confrontations since troops killed seven protesters last month.
After trying to push back demonstrators for several hours, police backed off and youths built barricades across the highway to the main financial district of the Gulf banking hub. Those barricades were still up on Monday, with protesters checking cars at the entrance to the Pearl roundabout, the focal point of weeks of protests. On the other side of the same highway, police set up a roadblock preventing any cars moving from the airport towards the financial area. In areas across Bahrain, vigilantes, some armed with sticks or wearing masks, guarded the entrances to their neighbourhoods".
Lin Noueihed & Frederik Richter, "Saudi sends troops, Bahrain Shi'ites call it war,"
14 March 2011, in www.reuters.com.
"The world’s attention is focused on Libya, which is now in a state of civil war with the winner far from clear. While crucial for the Libyan people and of some significance to the world’s oil markets, in our view, Libya is not the most important event in the Arab world at the moment. The demonstrations in Bahrain are, in my view, far more significant in their implications for the region and potentially for the world. To understand this, we must place it in a strategic context.
As STRATFOR has been saying for quite a while, a decisive moment is approaching, with the United States currently slated to withdraw the last of its forces from Iraq by the end of the year. Indeed, we are already at a point where the composition of the 50,000 troops remaining in Iraq has shifted from combat troops to training and support personnel. As it stands now, even these will all be gone by Dec. 31, 2011, provided the United States does not negotiate an extended stay. Iraq still does not have a stable government. It also does not have a military and security apparatus able to enforce the will of the government (which is hardly of one mind on anything) on the country, much less defend the country from outside forces....
Bahrain is the perfect example and test case. An island off the coast of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are linked by a causeway. For most purposes, Bahrain is part of Saudi Arabia. Unlike Saudi Arabia, it is not a major oil producer, but it is a banking center. It is also the home of the U.S. 5th Fleet, and has close ties to the United States. The majority of its population is Shia, but its government is Sunni and heavily linked to Saudi Arabia. The Shiite population has not fared as well economically as Shia in other countries in the region, and tensions between the government and the public have long existed.
The toppling of the government of Bahrain by a Shiite movement would potentially embolden Shia in Saudi Arabia, who live primarily in the oil-rich northeast near Bahrain. It also would weaken the U.S. military posture in the region. And it would demonstrate Iranian power. If the Saudis intervened in Bahrain, the Iranians would have grounds to justify their own intervention, covert or overt. Iran might also use any violent Bahraini government suppression of demonstrators to justify more open intervention. In the meantime, the United States, which has about 1,500 military personnel plus embassy staff on the ground in Bahrain, would face the choice of reinforcing or pulling its troops out".
George Friedman, "Bahrain and the Battle between Iran and Saudi Arabia,"
8 March 2011, in www.stratfor.com.
It would appear that there was not much in the way of a 'battle' for either Bahrain or the Gulf between Persia and Saudi Arabia. As a practical matter, Persia does not possess any armed forces which would allow it to intervene militarily in what Saudi Arabia regards as a policing action, akin to what Persia under the Shah did in the early 1970's in conjunction with the British in Oman. Id est responding to the request of a legitimate government for assistance with an internal security problem. And as such there is no such thing as an 'insurgency', so far, it would appear that the purpose of the Saudi and other Gulf Co-operation Council members will be to provide a better bargaining position for the Bahrain Royal family and government to negotiate with its subjects. No doubt going forward such negotiations will be fraught and tense at times, and we may see in the future more tense and bloody (on a minor scale) standoffs between the two sides, but I for one do not anticipate anything occurring on a massive scale of bloodshed. Nor do I see any likelihood of any overt Persian intervention in Bahrain. Although, I am sure that the regime in Tehran would love to have a pro-Persian regime in place in Bahrain, as a practical matter, with the Saudis next door, not to speak of the American fleet based in the kingdom, this is all a fantastic and unlikely occurrence. Look to see the pas de deux between the royal family and the Shi'ite opposition to continue. More akin to a waltz from an Offenbach opera bouffe than anything else.