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Bahrain: ‘US can’t attack Iran from Manama’ 21, August 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Bahrain.
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The Bahraini Foreign Minister, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifah, has stated that Bahrain will not allow America to use its military bases in Bahrain to attack Iran. He further stated that Bahrain’s military agreements with America were purely for defense.

The U.S have an enormous and expanding Naval Base south of Manama’s downtown. U.S. Naval Central Command and the 5th fleet is based there. There is also an airfield ran by the Navy at Bahrain’s International Airport.

Bahrain has a complicated history with Iran. Many Iranians believe that Bahrain is technically a province of Iran. Only in 1971 did Iran officially recognise the Al Khalifah as independent rulers of Bahrain in a quid pro quo for ‘understandings’ regarding the Abu Musa and Tunb islands that Iran subsequently took from the Emirates. Yet, sporadic statements emanate from Tehran reiterating their claims to the islands. Such instances terrify Bahrain and other smaller Gulf States. Iran dwarfs the smaller Gulf States in strategic terms. Only with their U.S. umbrella can they retain their independence.

This situation is worse for Bahrain with its Shia majority ruled by the Sunni minority. Insidious notions of Iranian or Shia 5th columnists acting as internal rebels perhaps along a Hezbollah model are of acute concern in Bahrain (and elsewhere in the Gulf). These fears are made worse by the slow but sure ending of Bahrain’s rentier bargain. With oil all but finished, the Manama government can not simply doll out welfare in all its numerous forms to, essentially, buy the acquiescence of groups in society, as the other Gulf States do as a matter of course.

America’s guarantees and the stationing of its forces in Bahrain are, therefore, central to Bahrain’s security. However, Bahrain and not America has to live with Iran but a few hundred kilometers across the Gulf. They can not employ the hard US line towards Iran; they must seek some kind of accommodationist, working relationship. This can also be very clearly seen with Qatar. Only yesterday, a press release emerged of the Qatari Foreign Minister in Tehran uttering the usual platitudes regarding Iran’s peaceful nuclear programme whilst visiting Ahmadinejad.

It is exactly the same for Bahrain here. They are well aware that the American presence in Bahrain antagonizes Iran quite seriously. Though they are not willing to countenance getting rid of this umbrella, they are willing to make such rhetorical concessions. By insisting that American troops are there for ‘defense’ purposes only and by saying that offensive strikes cannot be launched from Manama, they are simply trying to placate Iran; to make their day-to-day life easier.

Also, one must not forget that all politics is local; there are elections in Bahrain soon. Such a statement might resonate well with a significant minority in Bahrain who see Iran in a positive light.

In reality, it would seem to be an empty gesture. The notion that America’s Navy would not be involved were there to be a conflagration with Iran is unrealistic. Moreover, it would seem highly unlikely were there some kind of clause in the basing agreement dictating what America could and could not do with its forces.

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