Flashpoint / Global 13 November 2019 Bahrain Share Facebook Twitter Email Print Back To Map I. Why it Matters Bahrain, close ally of Saudi Arabia, has endorsed the Trump administration’s aggressive posture against Iran. Manama’s longstanding suspicions of Iranian support for anti-government groups make Bahrain a flashpoint for regionalising an internal political struggle. II. Recent Developments 13 November 2019 U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asserted with respect to Iran that “we’ve denied them resources. We’ve been very effective at that. There’s still an awful lot of work to do. And we have, at the same time, tried to ensure that there was adequate level of deterrence, and we’ve seen that Iran is determined to inflict harm not only on its neighbours, but the world by taking down… five-plus per cent of world’s energy supply”. Pompeo added that “President Trump understands that the driver of instability in the Middle East is, in fact, the Islamic Republic of Iran…the U.S. and Israel are working together along with our friends in the Gulf, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, the Bahrainis and others to try our best to ensure that there’s adequate levels of deterrence [against Iran] and make sure that the Iranian leadership knows that we will not tolerate their continued creation of instability in the region”. View More 5 November 2019 A senior Kuwaiti diplomat confirmed that his government had relayed Iranian messages on regional developments to Riyadh and Manama, though “until now no answers have emerged”. View More 1 November 2019 The U.S. State Department in its Country Reports on Terrorism 2018 asserted that “the Bahraini government made gains in detecting and containing terrorist threats from Bahraini Shiite terrorists, often backed by Iran, and from ISIS sympathisers”. It further found that “Bahrain continued to offer its support for countering Iran’s malfeasance in the region”. View More 30 October 2019 The U.S., Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and four other members of the Terrorist Financing and Targeting Center (TFTC) announced sanctions designations against “25 targets affiliated with the Iranian regime’s terror-support networks in the region”. According to the Treasury Department, the designation was “focussed on entities supporting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iran’s regional proxy, Hizbollah”. Secretary Mnuchin commented that “this action demonstrates the unified position of the Gulf nations and the U.S. that Iran will not be allowed to escalate its malign activity in the region”. View More 21 October 2019 Bahrain in partnership with the U.S. and Poland hosted the Warsaw Process Working Group on Maritime and Aviation Security in Manama “to exchange views on how to deal with the Iranian menace and to guarantee freedom of navigation”. Media reports indicated that a senior Israeli official attended the Conference. View More 13 October 2019 Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa remarked that “one-fifth of the world’s oil and gas supply is launched from the waters of the Arabian Gulf, and any threat to the freedom of navigation is therefore considered a disruption to world trade, a disturbance to oil prices and a challenge to the global order”. He further asserted that “the international community must come together to take firm steps to deter the aggressor, and oblige it to respect international maritime safety laws and treaties, in order to maintain international peace and security”. View More 6 October 2019 Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz announced that “recently I have been promoting, with the backing of the prime minister, a diplomatic initiative to sign ‘non-aggression agreements’ with the Arab Gulf states… it’s a historic move that will end the conflict and enable civilian cooperation until the signing of peace agreements”. View More 4 October 2019 A senior U.S. military official assessed with respect to the Iranians that “I don’t believe that they’re drawing back at all” since the 14 September attack against Saudi energy facilities, which he asserted was carried out to “send a signal and harass and provoke”. Referring to U.S.-led maritime security operations, the official indicated that “what [Operation] Sentinel seeks to do is shine a flashlight across that and make sure that if anything happens in the maritime, they will be exposed for that activity… we’ve created essentially a zone defence”. View More 3 October 2019 Senior Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) military officials met in Riyadh, and in a joint statement “affirmed the readiness of the armed forces of all GCC countries to confront and deal with any threats or terrorist attacks”. They further “condemned the attacks on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s oil tankers and the threat of free navigation, confirming their support for the efforts of the Kingdom and the GCC countries in confronting any threat or aggression against them”. View More 28 September 2019 In his address to the UN General Assembly, Bahrain’s foreign minister remarked that “the adoption of the Iranian regime of transitional terrorism has created networks of terrorist organisations and extremist militias, located in many places and different parts of the world such as Syria, Yemen, North Africa, the countries of the Sahara and the Sahel, South America and others. This requires us to intensify our efforts and enhance collective cooperation in order to eliminate them and prevent their return in any form”. He also applauded “the decisive course taken by the friendly U.S. in confronting Iran and its affiliates in the region, through exerting maximum pressure and imposing strict sanctions”. He went on to assert that “global energy supplies and maritime navigation in the waters of the Arabian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and the region as a whole are severely threatened by the behaviour of the Iranian regime and its frequent targeting of commercial vessels in the region”, adding condemnation of the 14 September attacks on Saudi energy facilities “which Iran bears responsibility for”. View More 18 September 2019 Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA) members convened in Washington and “condemn[ed] in the strongest terms the attack on the Aramco oil facilities in Saudi Arabia on September 14 which sought to disrupt oil markets and regional stability”. View More 17 September 2019 Secretary of State Pompeo “discussed the importance of countering the Iranian regime’s malign influence in the region” with Bahrain’s crown prince. View More 11 September 2019 The Arab Quartet Ministerial Committee for Follow-up of the Crisis with Iran and Response to its Interventions in Arab Internal Affairs, chaired by the UAE and including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the Secretary-General of the Arab League, “condemned Iran's continued support for terrorist and subversive acts in the Arab countries, including the continued firing of Iranian-made ballistic missiles from Yemeni territory into populated cities in the Kingdom”. It also denounced remarks by Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s as “intended to provoke sedition and incite hatred; and which is an extension of the dangerous role of this terrorist party, which is considered as one of the arms of Iran aiming to destabilise the security and stability in the region”. Iran’s diplomatic spokesperson responded that “the rehash of groundless accusations against [Iran’s] eternal ownership of its three islands in the Persian Gulf and the blame game by some Arab countries whose regional policies have failed are… the reason behind their failure to understand the realities of the region and the world”. He went on to say that “it is regrettable that some, instead of relying on the power of Persian Gulf states, make divergent, unfounded and undocumented allegations about the security of the region and welcome foreigners with their desperation”. View More 3 September 2019 Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu commended “remarks by the foreign ministers of Bahrain and the UAE against Hizbollah’s aggression”, and praised the U.S. for imposing sanctions against “the bank that provides Hizbollah with most of its funds”. He further remarked that “I defined three main goals for the IDF and the security arms in the following order: First of all, to stop and prevent the Iranian nuclear project. Second, to prevent Iran from supplying our enemies and its proxies, such as Hizbollah and others, with precision weapons that endanger us. And third, to prevent Iran and its proxies from entrenching on our borders”. Netanyahu added that “in effect, we are acting vis-à-vis all of these goals, in part openly and a considerable part covertly. We are determined to maintain the security of Israel”. View More 29 August 2019 In a statement, Iraq’s Foreign Ministry announced that it “rejects and condemns the Bahraini Foreign Minister’s tweet about the recent attacks on Arab territories and the Popular Mobilisation Forces by Zionist enemy [i.e. Israel] under the pretext of self-defence”. View More 19 August 2019 Meeting with the head of U.S. Central Command, Bahrain’s King Hamad “confirmed the Kingdom of Bahrain’s participation in the joint effort to preserve the safety of international maritime navigation and secure international corridors for trade and energy in the region”. In a statement, the CENTCOM chief welcomed Bahrain’s participation and asserted that “threats to the free flow of commerce are an international problem requiring an international solution, and we are pleased that the Kingdom of Bahrain will be a part of that solution”. View More 8 August 2019 Iran’s diplomatic spokesperson condemned the hosting by Bahrain of what it described as “an anti-Iran summit on maritime security” and contended that “such meetings are a move to disrupt stability and security and pave the way for interference in the Persian Gulf region by trans-regional powers and the Zionist regime of Israel”. In response, Bahraini Foreign Ministry stated that “hosting such meetings and conferences come in line with the Kingdom’s continued efforts and policies that are based on active participation to provide security and peace through collective action and joint cooperation with allies and international partners”. It also “called upon Iran to stop such irresponsible statements, refrain from issuing empty threats or committing any acts that may cause tensions and to commit to de-escalation”. View More 31 July 2019 Bahrain hosted an international meeting to “discuss means to enhance international cooperation and coordination in order to combat the rejected and repeated hostile practices of Iran and its terrorist affiliates, which aim to undermine the security of maritime navigation in the Arabia Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz”. Media reports had earlier indicated that the UK had helped convene the consultations with U.S. and European participation. View More 31 July 2019 Referring to the 27 July execution by Bahrain of two men charged with “joining a terrorist group, committing murders and possessing explosives and firearms to carry out terror acts”, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei declared that “oppression and coercion won’t persist and the decision and willpower of justice-seeking nations will eventually take over”. View More 17 July 2019 The U.S. Special Representative for Iran, Brian Hook, and Bahrain’s Foreign Minister jointly announced that Bahrain would host an international meeting on maritime security later in the year. View More 1 July 2019 The head of Israel’s foreign intelligence service blamed Iran for the tanker incidents in the Gulf of Oman and an attack on the Bahrain’s embassy in Iraq, contending that “with certainty, based on the best sources of both Israeli and Western espionage… Iran is behind these attacks. They were approved by Iranian leadership and carried out, in large part, by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its proxies”. View More 30 June 2019 A Bahraini appeals court overturned an earlier decision to revoke the citizenship of 92 Shiites convicted for plotting to form a group linked to IRGC. However, their prison sentences were upheld. View More 31 May 2019 As Saudi Arabia hosted summits of the OIC, GCC and the Arab League, Iran’s diplomatic spokesperson contended that “we deem the Saudi efforts to mobilise the views of neighbouring and Arab countries a continuation of the indecisive process that the U.S. and the Zionist regime [i.e. Israel] are pursuing against the Islamic Republic of Iran”. He further stressed that “Saudi Arabia took political and instrumental advantage of the auspicious month of Ramadan and the holy city of Mecca to make accusations against the Islamic Iran from the mouth of some participants in the conference”. View More 30 May 2019 An Arab League communique criticised “the continuing Iranian interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Bahrain, supporting terrorism, training terrorists, smuggling arms and explosives, and inciting sectarian strife to destabilise security, order and stability”. View More 30 May 2019 The GCC Supreme Council issued a communique highlighting “the need that Iran spares the region the dangers of war by abiding by the international laws and conventions, stop interference in the internal affairs of the countries of the region, and stop supporting terrorist groups and militias and threatening the security of maritime navigation”. The statement went on to applaud “the actions taken by the U.S. to confront Iran”. View More 19 May 2019 An interior ministry official indicated that "an investigation into the social media accounts that tended to encourage sedition and harm civil peace, social fabric and stability had shown that most of them were managed by sources in Iran, Qatar, Iraq and European countries" View More 19 May 2019 U.S. Central Command stated that "Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations commenced enhanced security patrols across the region in international waters May 18", adding that "ships of the GCC - both navies and coast guards - are working in tight coordination with each other and the United States navy". View More 18 May 2019 Bahrain's government asked "all citizens present in the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Iraq to leave immediately for their safety and security". View More 9 May 2019 President Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, indicated that the Bahraini government was "contracting with my company to do security consulting for them, with specific emphasis on things that appeared to be perpetrated by terrorists... specifically in regard to [alleged] terrorist acts perpetrated in large part by Iran or Iranian proxies". View More 3 May 2019 The Defense Security Cooperation Agency advised the U.S. Congress on State Department approval for the sale of nearly $2.5 billion in Patriot missile systems to Bahrain, as well as weapons for its F-16 fighter jets worth a further $750 million. View More 2 May 2019 Bahrain's top diplomat indicated that "we see an opportunity for Tehran to review its policy, which had so far brought it to the brink of the abyss". He also opined that Iranian statements about blocking the Strait of Hormuz constitute "a blunt threat to all Gulf states. I still believe that Iran might think thoroughly before taking such a step because it would be a dangerous escalation that would not be allowed to last for even one day". Tehran responded to the comments the following day, with a spokesman saying that "out of benevolence and neighbourliness, Iran advises the officials of this tiny dependent country [i.e Bahrain] to know their limits when threatening those bigger than themselves". View More 27 April 2019 After Bahrain's top diplomat suggested that Iraq's Muqtada al-Sadr would be well-served by "directing his words to the Iranian regime that controls his country" instead of referring to Bahrain in recent remarks, the Iraqi government called for an apology and suggested that the official's comments "harm Iraq, its sovereignty and independence, especially when the Bahraini Minister speaks of Iraq being under the control of neighbouring Iran". View More 25 April 2019 Iran's diplomatic spokesperson criticised Saudi Arabia and Bahrain's endorsement of expanded U.S. sanctions against Iran, suggesting that their positions showed "blind obedience to the U.S." He added that "Iran will not allow any market to replace it in the oil market, and holds the U.S. and the aforesaid countries... accountable for all consequences". View More 23 April 2019 Bahrain's foreign ministry applauded the U.S. decision to end sanctions waivers on Iranian oil sales, describing the move as "crucial in order to further support and strengthen efforts exerted in combating terrorism and eradicating Iran's malign and dangerous activities that aim to undermine security and stability and support terrorist organisations and militias in the region". View More 16 April 2019 A Bahraini court sentenced 139 individuals on charges relating to "the formation of a terrorist cell in Bahrain funded by, and at the behest of Iranian regime leaders". According to security services, "the IRGC supplied them with all the technical, logistic and financial support in order to organise them into a single terrorist group, the so-called 'Hizbollah in Bahrain'", with training in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon. Iran's diplomatic spokesperson dismissed the claims as "groundless allegation". View More 9 April 2019 Saudi state media reported that "an official source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has expressed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's welcome to the U.S.' classification of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organisation"; Bahrain similarly hailed the designation. In response, Iran's diplomatic spokesperson opined that the two countries were "not in a position to express their stances against the Islamic Republic of Iran by playing a deceitful role" adding that "they will fail to hide behind such worthless stances and deflect the world's attention away from their responsibility in promoting terrorism across the region and the world". View More 7 March 2019 CENTCOM commander Joseph Votel noted that "the government of Bahrain has welcomed the broader effort to confront Iran's destabilisation activities in the region", adding that "Bahrain is a strong partner in countering threat financing, especially helping curtail Iran's efforts to circumvent financial sanctions". View More 27 February 2019 The spiritual leader of al-Wifaq, Sheikh Isa Qasem, met with senior Iranian religious leaders in Qom. View More 21 February 2019 Officials from the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other regional governments convened in Washington to discuss "the political and security pillars of the Middle East Strategic Alliance". A subsequent U.S. statement indicated that "consultations included formative exchanges on the strategic objectives of the alliance, with particular emphasis on political and security-related topics". View More 14 February 2019 Prime Minister Netanyahu's office posted, then removed, a video clip taken during the Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East showing senior officials from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE criticising Iran. These comments included Bahrain's foreign minister suggesting that "we grew up talking about the Israel-Palestine issue as the most important issue... but then, at a later stage, we saw a bigger challenge, we saw a more toxic one - in fact the more toxic one in our history - that came from the Islamic Republic". "This is the challenge we have to face in order to deal with other challenges", the foreign minister added. The footage also showed a senior Saudi official concluding with respect to Iran that "any attempt to be nice to them, if anything, encourages them rather then discourages them". View More 5 February 2019 CENTCOM commander Joseph Votel noted that Bahrain "has welcomed the broader effort to confront Iran's destabilising activities in the region", adding that "Bahrain is a strong partner in countering threat financing, especially helping curtail Iran's efforts to circumvent financial sanctions". View More 29 January 2019 Bahrain's government hit back at Iranian criticism of the life sentence against Ali Salman, saying that Tehran's statements "reflect the aggressive nature of the regime in Iran" and "mirror the Iranian policy which interferes in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Bahrain and other Arab states in order to promote chaos, tension and violence in the region". The Bahraini response further noted that Iran was trying "to cover the suffering of the Iranian people which results from the regime's practices... and its support for terrorism in the region against the interests of the Iranian people who live in poverty, repression and violence caused by the Iranian regime". It went on to call for "active action and a firm response by the international community to force the Iranian regime to respect international laws and charters, the sovereignty and independence of states and non-interference in its internal matters". View More 28 January 2019 Following a top Bahraini court's decision to confirm a life sentence for the secretary general of al-Wifaq, Ali Salman, a U.S. diplomatic spokesperson suggested that the ruling "narrows the space for free expression and political activity, something historically protected under Bahrain's constitutional system". Iran's diplomatic spokesperson also weighed in on the ruling, stating that "issuing a cruel verdict based on unsubstantial accusations... shows that the Bahraini government, by relying on the support of some foreign countries, is pursuing a plan to eliminate any peaceful voice of protest in the country". View More 15 January 2019 The U.S. special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, argued that "Iran's support of proxies... in Bahrain is part of a much larger strategy to destablise the region. Iran must stop testing and proliferating missiles, stop launching and developing nuclear-capable missiles and stop supporting its militias in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen". He went on to posit that "Iran... has tried to weaken national identity in Bahrain and create sectarian divisions. But Bahrain's leaders have responded by deepening their commitment to peaceful coexistence and religious freedom". View More 15 January 2019 In discussions with the U.S. special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, Bahrain's foreign minister "stressed the Kingdom's full support and solidarity with all the efforts exerted by the U.S. in confronting the policies of the regime in Iran that undermine peace and security, countering Iran's interference in the internal affairs of the region's countries, as well as Iran's support for terrorism and its practices to escalate tension and violence across the region and the world". View More 11 January 2019 Secretary Pompeo held talks with Bahrain's king and other senior Bahraini officials in Manama. A U.S. statement noted that "the leaders addressed critical priorities, including counter-terrorism, Yemen and countering the Iranian regime's dangerous activities". View More 10 January 2019 Secretary Pompeo remarked that "Bahrain has exposed the IRGC proxies that are active in its country and... is working to stop Iran's illicit maritime activities in its region". View More 7 January 2019 Bahrain's foreign minister, Khalid al-Khalifa, responded to a tweet by his Iranian counterpart decrying "decades of failed U.S. policies in our region" with a riposte regarding Iran's "decades of ill intentions, hegemonic aims and misrepresentation of a proud nation". View More 4 January 2019 Ahead of Secretary Pompeo's visit to Manama, a senior U.S. diplomat asserted that "in Bahrain, the Iran policy will be front and centre. Bahrain is a front-line state, if you will, in our Iran strategy. Iran seeks to agitate the Shiite population in Bahrain through weapons trafficking and various other means". View More 6 December 2018 As Israel carried out operation "Northern Shield", Bahrain's foreign minister tweeted "is terrorist Hizbollah's digging of the tunnels under Lebanon's border not a flagrant threat to Lebanon's stability, which it shares responsibility for? Who bears responsibility when neighbouring countries take upon themselves to eliminate the threat they face?" View More 29 November 2018 The U.S. special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, showcased various arms collected by Bahrain which Iran purportedly provided "to Shia militant groups to carry out against the government". "The U.S.", Hook indicated, "stands with Bahrain to protect its sovereignty, and we will continue to work together to identify and intercept arms shipments in the region". View More 26 November 2018 The State Department "welcome[d] a successful first round of voting in Bahrain's parliamentary and municipal elections", going on to call for "a continued commitment to an inclusive, peaceful and democratic political process as voters return to the polls" in the second round of voting on 1 December. View More 24 November 2018 Bahrain held parliamentary and municipal elections, reporting 67 and close to 70 per cent participation, respectively. The Interior Ministry alleged that "Iran was the source for 40,000 e-messages to disturb the parliamentary and municipal elections". View More 20 November 2018 In an article on the upcoming elections, Bahrain's ambassador to the U.S. acknowledged that the government "has barred a few political societies over the years for inciting hatred and violence. Societies are prohibited from associating with foreigners whose goal is to topple the government. The societies that were dissolved were proven to have conspired with foreign enemies of the state". "Bahrain was merely protecting its sovereignty", he argued, "not shutting down dissent". View More 14 November 2018 According to the U.S. State Department, Secretary Pompeo spoke with Bahrain's Crown Prince by telephone and discussed, among other issues, "countering the Iranian regime's malign influence in the region". View More 14 November 2018 Bahrain's Interior Ministry assessed "that malicious calls to boycott parliamentary and municipal elections were made by social media accounts that are managed from outside Bahrain, particularly from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon". View More 14 November 2018 Tehran-based Tasnim News Agency hosted a press conference featuring members of the Bahraini opposition. View More 13 November 2018 A senior U.S. diplomat maintained that "in Bahrain, Tehran has developed a close partnership with the Ashtar Brigades - an organisation working to overthrow the Bahraini government. Iran provides al-Ashtar with training, funding and weapons, enabling the group's terrorist attacks". View More 8 November 2018 Bahrain rejected international criticism over its parliamentary elections, insisting that polls "have been and are still held according to international standards of freedom, fairness, independence and transparency". According the council of representative's human rights committee, "some of the dissolved associations had been found guilty of receiving political and financial support from... Iran, Qatar and Hizbollah terrorist organisation". View More 7 November 2018 The State Department indicated that "the U.S. is concerned by the verdict sentencing Ali Salman to life in prison", adding that "the U.S. will continue to engage regularly with the Government of Bahrain on a range of shared interests, including the importance of safeguarding fundamental freedoms and human rights". View More 4 November 2018 The secretary general of al-Wifaq, Ali Salman, and two other al-Wifaq officials were sentenced by the High Court of Appeals to "life imprisonment due to the seriousness of their crimes, which included sharing sensitive security materials with the government of Qatar, and collaborating with Qatari officials to support acts of violence throughout the Kingdom of Bahrain". In a statement, al-Wifaq asserted that "the deepening crisis has forced the regime to resort to reckless and insane measures in a bid to get out of its isolation. That is why it is taking political prisoners as hostages". Iran condemned the decision. View More 1 November 2018 Bahraini security forces revealed that they had "foiled an attempted trafficking operation of six fugitives wanted on terrorism charges", alleging that one of six people detained "was in contact with a fugitive in Iran who arranged the operation". View More 27 October 2018 Bahrain's foreign minister described Yemen as "the latest casualty of the Islamic Republic of Iran's quest for regional dominance", and argued that in Iraq and Lebanon "leaderships... are confronted by Iranian-backed groups or individuals who place loyalty to the Islamic Republic over the national interests of their countries". View More 24 October 2018 Citing "intensive and continuous media reports on the Qatari and Iranian moves to influence parliamentary elections in a number of countries", Bahraini authorities announced the establishment of a hotline to receive reports of "foreign interference" in November parliamentary elections. View More 23 October 2018 Saudi Arabia and Bahrain announced sanctions designations against the IRGC, Qods force commander Qasem Soleimani and other Qods force officials. A senior IRGC official denounced the move. View More 23 October 2018 The U.S., Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other members of the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC) announced sanctions designations against "nine individuals associated with the Taliban, including those facilitating Iranian support to bolster the terrorist group". Treasury Secretary Mnuchin asserted that "Iran's provision of military training, financing, and weapons to the Taliban is yet another example of Tehran's blatant regional meddling and support for terrorism", adding that it "epitomises the regime's utter disregard for fundamental international norms". View More 15 October 2018 A Bahraini court convicted seven individuals for their involvement in a November 2017 attack on an oil pipeline; two of the defendants purportedly "received training on the use and making of weapons and explosives in [IRGC] camps for the purpose of committing terrorist crimes in Bahrain". View More 9 October 2018 Al-Wifaq issued a statement calling for "an inclusive national stance to boycott and refuse to participate in the [November 2018 parliamentary] election". View More 4 October 2018 Bahrain inked a $10 billion Financial Support Agreement with Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait. View More 29 September 2018 In his remarks to the UN General Assembly, Bahrain's foreign minister decried Iran's "policy of destruction", arguing that Tehran "aspires to impose its hegemony on the region by packaging and exporting its miserable revolution under which the Iranian people suffer from tyranny, oppression and injustice". He went on to laud the Trump administration's approach towards Iran, including the designation of terrorist groups purportedly backed by Tehran. View More 28 September 2018 The State Department endorsed a proposed $300 million missile sale to Bahrain. View More 10 September 2018 Parliamentary elections were set for 24 November 2018. View More 30 August 2018 Bahrain charged thirteen people with “forming and funding a terrorist cell”. View More 13 August 2018 The U.S. state department designated al-Ashtar Brigades’ Qassim Abdullah Ali Ahmed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. Bahraini authorities had previously accused Ahmed, also known as Qassim al-Muamen, of membership and in a “terror cell” trained in and by Iran. View More 10 July 2018 The U.S. state department announced the designation of al-Ashtar Brigades as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT). A senior U.S. diplomat asserted that “the U.S. sees plainly what Iran is trying to do to Bahrain through its proxy, the terrorist group Al-Ashtar”. View More 20 June 2018 Bahrain’s ambassador to the U.S. urged that the bilateral relationship “be expanded now that our common enemy, Hizbollah, has infiltrated the U.S. along with Bahrain”. He went on to suggest the U.S. “complain loudly – more loudly than it already is – that Iran-backed extremists such as Hizbollah are a universal menace”, and proposed increased U.S. weapons sales so that Bahrain might “defeat this scourge”. View More 21 May 2018 Bahrain’s foreign ministry declared its “full support” for the Iran policy spelled out by the U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, asserting that “Bahrain considers itself on the same page with the U.S. in the face of the Iranian threat and in addressing Iran’s attempts to spread violence and terrorism”. View More 10 May 2018 Weighing in on Israeli airstrikes against purported Iranian sites in Syria, Bahrain’s foreign minister, Khalid al-Khalifa, asserted that “it is the right of any country in the region, including Israel, to defend itself by destroying sources of danger”. View More 8 May 2018 Bahrain’s government applauded the U.S. decision to exit the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement. View More 3 March 2018 Bahrain announced the arrest of 116 individuals described by authorities as “suspected terrorists”, and the seizure of weapons and explosives. The government maintained that those arrested “were members of a network formed and supported by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)”, adding that “48 of the 116… had received training at IRGC facilities in Iran and their affiliated locations in Iraq and Lebanon”. View More 1 January 2018 Bahrain’s foreign ministry issued a travel advisory against travel to Iran “due to the widespread unrest, unstable security conditions and severe violence in the cities of Iran”. View More 11 November 2017 Bahrain’s interior ministry described an oil pipeline explosion as “an act of sabotage and a dangerous act of terrorism”, adding that “terrorist acts witnessed by the country in the recent period are carried out through direct contacts and instructions from Iran”. Iran judged the charges “baseless and cheap”, with a foreign ministry official lamenting that “it seems the only thing that Bahraini officials have learned to do after any incident in the island is pinning the blame on Iran”. View More See more III. Background Bahrain, with nearly a population of roughly a million and a half in 2016, is the smallest nation in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The island kingdom has long been a place of popular ferment, owing in part to its relatively open society and in part to the disenfranchisement of its majority-Shiite population by a Sunni monarchy. Bahrain periodically suffered sectarian-tinged trouble before 1979, but the Shiite-Sunni religious rift was not a structural feature of domestic political dynamics. This changed in the aftermath of Iran’s Islamic Revolution. Some elements within Shiite communities throughout the Gulf, notably in eastern Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, mobilised and radicalised; in turn, Sunni anxiety heightened. While Bahrain’s government had not pursued a specifically sectarian agenda before 1979, since then many of its practices have exacerbated sectarian differences and fears. The situation worsened in 1981, after Bahrain foiled an attempt by the Islamic Front, a radical Shiite organisation, to take over police stations, ministries and radio stations, allegedly with the backing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The government reacted with a wide-ranging crackdown, arresting hundreds of Islamic Front members and sympathisers, and trying and convicting dozens of them. In the 1990s, the combination of limited civil and political rights, extensive anti-Shiite discrimination, corruption within the ruling family elite, a repressive and largely foreign-staffed security apparatus and a stagnant economy contributed to occasional clashes and unrest. Two major Shiite dissident groups emerged, the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain and the Bahrain Islamic Freedom Movement, as well as two left-wing (secular) groups. King Hamad, who succeeded his father, Emir Isa, in 1999, sought to defuse tensions, promising democratic reforms under the umbrella of his so-called National Action Charter. These included an amnesty for all political activists involved in the 1990s political unrest, resulting in the return of many exiles and facilitating the establishment of the Islamic National Accord Association (al-Wifaq) as a pan-Shiite bloc in November 2001. Yet optimism among the Shiite population slowly faded, including in 2002, when the king unilaterally promulgated a rewritten constitution that the opposition criticised for creating institutional and legal frameworks in which neither the king nor his advisors were accountable. Pent-up anger rose to the surface in 2004, with street demonstrations that took an increasingly sectarian dimension. Al-Wifaq, which had boycotted parliamentary elections in 2002, participated in both the 2006 and 2010 polls, taking seventeen and then eighteen of the national legislature’s 40 seats and asserting its status as the country's predominant Shiite group. In 2011, taking their cue from protesters in Tunisia and Egypt, a medley of opposition groups, emergent political movements and unaffiliated youth took to the streets in Manama and surrounding towns and villages. This was a popular much more than a Shiite revolt, uniting religious Shiites, secular Shiites and non-Shiites around a common agenda. The protesters developed a set of demands that ranged from political and constitutional reform to, for some, outright regime removal. Alarmed by the protests – which Iranian media had cheered on – Riyadh invoked a GCC common security agreement. Saudi and UAE forces deployed to Bahrain, with a mandate to guard strategic sites. Bahrain demolished the Pearl Roundabout square where the uprising had initially begun. Despite the crackdown, protests continued near-daily in Shiite villages for several years, until the government took more aggressive steps to silence the opposition. It outlawed major opposition groups (Al-Wifaq in 2016 and the leftist National Democratic Action Society, al-Waad, in 2017) and banned their officials from contesting elections. At the same time, the government has escalated allegations – which Iran has denied – of Iranian support, training and harbouring of Bahraini dissidents. In recent years, the Bahraini military has repeatedly seized what it said were weapons and explosives shipments from Iran intended for the opposition. The Iranian media has continued to give sympathetic coverage to Bahraini demonstrators. Children holding signs as anti-government demonstrators listen to speeches at Pearl Square in Manama, on 20 February 2011. REUTERS/Caren Firouz IV. Analysis Shiite Fifth Column? As Shiites in Bahrain see it, the discrimination they suffer is the product of institutionalised government policy. During the 2011 uprising, the bulk of the protesters were Shiites (reflecting the composition of the population), but by and large their demands were not sectarian or religious: they called for substantive improvements in democracy, human rights and services. Yet the government sought to portray the uprising as a distinctly Shiite revolt inspired by Iran; it was also under pressure from other Gulf states not to let the democratic current go too far and avoid a scenario in which the Shiites would become the dominant political power, or even try to topple the regime, as had happened elsewhere in the region. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, declared in 2012 that “it is wrong to claim that Iran is involved in the events in Bahrain…. If we had interfered, circumstances would have changed in Bahrain”. In the aftermath of the uprising and crackdown, the government oscillated between attempts at reconciliation and further repression. One example of the former was the commissioning of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which produced the Bassiouni report criticising the government’s heavy-handed approach to protests and found no “discernible link” between the protests and Iran. The government continues to regularly link Iran to attacks and suspected plots. While there is little to suggest close ties between the mainstream opposition and Iran, some marginal pockets within the anti-government camp are closer to the Islamic Republic’s ideology and may be receiving assistance – at a minimum moral and media support, although potentially of a military nature as well – from Tehran, especially from the IRGC, or from Iranian proxies. Little Daylight with Riyadh: Bahrain is closely tied, politically as well as economically, to Saudi Arabia and its Western allies. During the 2011 protests, Saudi Arabia and the UAE dispatched forces to Bahrain under the terms of the GCC’s Joint Defence Agreement. As the International Monetary Fund warns of the kingdom’s “fiscal and external vulnerabilities”, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait have stepped up efforts to support its economy. The U.S. and UK have military bases in the country, and in 2017 Washington authorised nearly $4 billion in weapons sales to Bahrain. The combination of military and economic dependence means that the Bahraini government will remain in lockstep with Iran’s regional rivals and support efforts to curtail Iranian influence, in the kingdom specifically and across the region generally. Iran’s Claims to Bahrain: Bahrain has expressed anxiety over occasional but long-standing Iranian claims on the island kingdom as Iranian territory. In 1957, Iran’s parliament passed a bill declaring Bahrain to be the country’s fourteenth province. A UN-administered plebiscite conducted in 1970, shortly before Bahrain gained independence in 1971, concluded that the vast majority of Bahrainis, both Sunni and Shiite, wanted Bahrain to remain an independent Arab state. Although Iran formally accepted this outcome, Iranian officials, diplomats and journalists periodically raise the issue, causing considerable Bahraini (and GCC) irritation. U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo meeting with Bahraini Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, at the U.S. Department of State, on 3 October 2018. U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT V. Scenarios and Recommendations All Roads Are Said to Lead to Tehran: Bahraini authorities would likely point the finger at Tehran in the event of any attack or alleged plot in the kingdom, such as a bombing or arms seizure. Saudi Arabia and the U.S., both of which are inclined to see an Iranian hand behind any incident targeting an ally, can be expected to join in the condemnation. For its part, Iran might choose to retaliate against the economic warfare that the U.S. and its allies in the region are waging against it by focusing on Bahrain, Saudi Arabia’s backyard and home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, where it may sense an opportunity to deepen existing fault lines and foment instability at little cost. In the absence of genuine political reform and a redress of sectarian discrimination, local opposition based on domestic grievances will continue to simmer, providing an opportunity for Iran to exploit the sectarian rift. The Clerical Conundrum: The condition of Sheikh Isa Qasem, Al-Wifaq’s spiritual leader, is a potential political time bomb. Qasem is ideologically closer to the paramount Shiite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf than to Iran’s clerical leadership. In July 2018 Bahraini authorities permitted Qasem, who had been under house arrest and in declining health, to visit the UK for treatment; he remains in London but has said he intends to return to Bahrain. Qasem’s fate will remain a point of sensitivity between the government and Bahrain’s Shiite population, as well as between Manama and Tehran; a perception of government maltreatment of the aging cleric could inflame tensions.