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Iranian flotilla heads for Bahrain 16, May 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iran, Saudi Arabia, The Gulf.
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An Iranian naval convoy of activists, students and professors is heading to Bahrain to protest at what they see as the legitimate demands of the Shia population there being ruthlessly oppressed with the open support – if not direction – of regional allies, notably Saudi Arabia.

The flotilla insists that it will ask for permission to enter Bahraini waters, which will surely be refused.

This action will now be the face of Saudi claims that Iran is interfering in Bahrain’s domestic politics, a view that is utterly entrenched in the Kingdom and elsewhere throughout the Gulf. Indeed, overall there has been little appreciation that the Shia in Bahrain may have legitimate grievances that ought to be given a voice. Instead many Gulf countries, strongly led by Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and of course Manama have been propagating the notion that practically all of the troubles are down to Iran.

Technically speaking, this incident should pass without a hitch. First, the flotilla will never be granted access to Bahraini waters, which they claim they will seek. And second, the Bahraini (or Saudi) ships which will intercept them should they progress further will surely be aware that there will be approximately a million cameras on the Iranian boats ready to capture any images of ‘unprovoked brutality against a humanitarian convoy’.

Yet this overlooks two things.

Firstly, one must not forget what a profound mess the Middle East’s best trained armed forces made of a flotilla intervention last year.

Secondly, there is a wholly poisonous Sunni-Shia, Arabian Gulf-Persian Gulf atmosphere in the region at the moment. Moreover, Saudi Arabia appear to be edging away from simply following the American lead and are striking out on their own in terms of a more muscular, assertive foreign policy. Under these circumstances, not only is it unfortunately possible to see them using this example of ‘Iranians entering GCC waters with…umm…hostile intent’ as an excuse to act but more generally in this febrile atmosphere I would not remotely put it past Saudi or Bahraini sailors to take a pot-shot just for the hell of it.

Qatar mediation for Shalit? 16, May 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Qatar.
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The French satirical and investigative magazine Le Canard Enchaine (like the UK’s Private Eye) reports that the Qatari Prime Minister has, on numerous occasions in recent years, spoken to Israeli President Netanyahu while in Paris about trying to obtain the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israel soldier kidnapped in 2006 by Hamas.

Though unconfirmed, such mediation would be wholly in keeping with Qatar’s profile. Not only have they sought to reestablish relations with Israel on numerous occasions but this type of role is made for Qatar: where they have, more than practically any other Arab states, relations on both sides of the fence and they are also removed enough from the conflict not to be embroiled. To my mind, this kind of example, if indeed it is the case, highlights Qatar’s erudite and mature foreign policy.

I come from the UK where I grew up with the IRA occasionally blowing up chunks of London, Manchester and Northern Ireland. The notion of sitting down with Gerry Adams and his murdering ilk, or indeed hearing his voice without being dubbed on the television, is profoundly disturbing, but needs to be done.

The UAE’s mercenary army? 16, May 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
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So it seems that the UAE, or more specifically, Abu Dhabi, has been cultivating mercenary armed forces in the desert. Their aim is reportedly to either quell uprisings within the Emirates, act somehow against Iran or to be first responders to a terrorist incident.

All in all it is really rather impressively poorly thought out.

  • So the UAE want to rely on a bunch of paid killers for their security. People who have specialised (particularly in the South African case) in taking money and killing people at the behest of…well…anyone. What a morally bankrupt policy.
  • The report notes that such an army might be a part of a plan, one day, to take back the Abu Musa and Tunb islands from Iran. What a joke. There is no way that the Emirates would be that stupid: that would be a bona fide act of war, however justified historically. And I would not want such a mission to be entrusted to a bunch of mercenaries who couldn’t give two hoots about the lumps of rock in the Gulf: if there’s a good chance you’d die (do you think the Iranians would give up without a fight, or fight fairly for that matter?) it hardly matters how much you’re being paid.
  • A mercenary army unleashed against Emirati protestors? Is that what’s envisaged? This would immediately de-legitimize their mission and cause a fire-storm of protests: ‘Emiratis killed by foreign mercenaries’
  • A bunch of mercenaries as first responders to a terrorist attack? What – exactly – would their rules of engagement be? What role would traditional CT forces play in this? How would they hand-over? What legal authority would they have?
  • Let’s not forget how integral military forces are to the prestige of Gulf (if not most) countries and particularly to the leaders. Deploying such mercenary forces would be a monumental slap in the face for any and all Emirati forces. It clearly and brazenly states – to the world – that every last one of them is rubbish at their job; that they cannot do what they are paid and trained to do: defend their country. I think that the shock-waves of shame would reverberate around the Emirates.

Overall, then, IMHO (as the kids say), this idea…needs some thought.

Update: I’ve just updated all the typos in this article – apologies!

Barcelona’s new Qatar Foundation shirt 16, May 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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Ta da! Here’s Barcelona’s new football strip for next season, complete with the Qatar Foundation logo. Money well spent…?

Hat tip:

Doha News