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For its part, Iran claimed the flotilla to be nothing more than an attempt to show its sympathy for Bahrain’s Shiite community. Mehdi Eghrarian, the head of the Shiite Iran’s Islamic Revolution Supporters Society said the flotilla’s intent was simply to “bring a message of solidarity with the oppressed and tyrannized people of Bahrain.”
However, a former CIA intelligence told one news service that supporters of Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei had been assembled to launch a new confrontation with Bahrain. According to him, the flotilla would contain “martyrdom forces, consisting of Islamist thugs … who have been at the forefront in the brutal suppression of Iranian demonstrators.” More ominously, he warned, “They are also preparing suicide bombers in co-ordination with the Guards’ Quds Force for attacks on Bahraini and Saudi interests.
While that assessment remains to be determined, what isn’t in doubt is that Iran’s most recent effort to interfere in Bahrain affairs comes as the small kingdom remains locked in an escalating clampdown on its Shiite population despite a pledge by Bahraini King Hamad al-Khalifa to end a state of emergency by June 1.
Bahraini authorities have set up a special security court to prosecute opposition leaders and other protesters thought to be linked to the February protests. To date, the court has sentenced four people to death and is in the midst of trying 21 Shiite opposition leaders and political activists accused of plotting against the kingdom.
Moreover, Bahrain’s government has been accusing Iran and its Shiite terrorist proxy Hezbollah of enflaming its internal situation by training Bahraini dissidents in its Lebanese and Iranian camps, accusations which led Bahrain in March 2011 to expel dozens of Shiite Lebanese for alleged ties to Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
So, it comes as little surprise that Bahrain’s foreign minister Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa addressed Iran’s most recent provocation by substantially raising the rhetoric, warning, “The campaign against us from Iran at this stage is political, but it could have a different posture at any time.” Firing back, Iran’s foreign minister, Heidar Salehi, warned of “repercussions” if the situation in Bahrain did not improve.
However, Iran’s verbal assaults on Bahrain have been alternately balanced by it sending its Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi to Kuwait to discuss bilateral and regional issues in an effort to mend fences with its Gulf neighbors. The stop in Kuwait will mark Salehi’s fifth regional trip in the past few weeks, following visits to Qatar, Oman, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates.
According to an Iranian spokesman for Salehi, the trips have been intended because the Iranians believe “consultations among regional countries prove helpful in better understanding of the situation in Bahrain, and pave the way for an appropriate response to the legitimate demands of the people there.”
Despite the gloved hand, the Gulf States aren’t letting down their guard, especially Saudi Arabia. Since the beginning of 2011 the Saudis have authorized more than $100 billion of additional military spending to modernize and upgrade its ground forces and naval capabilities. To that end, it has begun to double its number of high-quality combat aircraft and add 60,000 security personnel to its Interior Ministry forces. Furthermore, the Saudis plan to create a Special Forces Command to unify its various special forces for possible rapid deployment abroad.
Some may argue that the monarchial Persian Gulf States and the Islamist Republic are nothing more than two sides of the same Islamic coin. As such, there is no difference in who triumphs in a coming clash, either will retain the same enmity to the West, perhaps just in varying degrees. Whether true or not, the recent events unfolding in the Gulf region demonstrate that we may soon at least have an answer.
Frank Crimi is a writer living in San Diego, California. You can read more of Frank’s work at his blog, www.politicallyunbalanced.com.
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