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Iran: Normalization with Israel Accelerates the End of the Bahrain Regime

 
Filed under: Iran, The Middle East
Publication: Jerusalem Issue Briefs

Iran: Normalization with Israel Accelerates the End of the Bahrain Regime
Kayhan: Bahrain rises up against al-Khalifa in protest at its declaration of normalized relations with Israel

Institute for Contemporary Affairs

Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation

Vol. 20, No. 21

  • Normalization of relations between Israel and Bahrain is another significant and painful blow to Iran’s soft belly. However, unlike in the case of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain is of particular historical, religious, and political importance to Iran.
  • Bahrain, a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, is located right in the middle of the Iranian “lion’s jaws.” It hosts the U.S. Navy’s main naval base of the Fifth Fleet in the Gulf region and representatives of the Royal British Navy.
  • Since the outbreak of the Arab Spring Iran has acted with perseverance, principally via the Revolutionary Guards, to destabilize the Bahraini Kingdom and bring down the minority Sunni rule over the Shiite majority. The decision by Bahrain, with the backing of Saudi Arabia, to normalize relations is expected to lead to an increase in Iranian subversion efforts in the kingdom.
  • Saying the U.S.-Gulf objective is to make the Palestinian territories safe for Israel, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard declared this project will never be fulfilled, and, on the contrary, it will give Muslim nations a stronger determination to “eliminate the cancerous tumor, Israel.”
  • In the dramatic course of normalizing relations with Israel, it appears that Bahrain openly chose the American shield against Iran’s looming shadow, showing the disconnect between normalization with Israel and solving the Palestinian problem.
  • Will Iran, showing a genuine fear of the “Zionist presence” in the Persian Gulf region, attempt to carry out a Crimean-style invasion of Bahrain to restore what it believes to belong to Iran, endangering a direct confrontation with the United States? It is likely that Iran has discussed such a scenario and has contingency plans to implement it.

Normalization of relations between Israel and Bahrain is another significant and painful blow to Iran’s soft belly. However, unlike in the case of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain is of particular historical, religious, and political importance to Iran. Bahrain was once under Persian rule (1602-1783) and as Iranian’s 14th province it sent representatives to the Iranian Majlis (parliament). A Sunni minority rules the Shiite majority, and part of the population is Persian in their origin. In recent years, especially during President Ahmadinejad’s tenure, but also before, there were calls to restore Bahrain to Iranian rule.

Bahrain
Bahrain is covered by a star on the map. (U.S. Institute of Peace)

Bahrain, a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, is located right in the middle of the Iranian “lion’s jaws.” It hosts the U.S. Navy’s main naval base of the Fifth Fleet in the Gulf region and representatives of the Royal British Navy.

Bahrain effectively serves as a “microcosm” for the “great processes” and shake-ups in the Middle East that gradually unravel the old order, narratives, and paradigms (Sykes-Picot, Territories for Peace, and the collective Pan-Arabism). It is replaced by a new regional order represented by the “Deal of the Century” and economic prosperity.

Since the outbreak of the Arab Spring – and even much before it – Iran has acted with perseverance, principally via the Revolutionary Guards, to destabilize the Bahraini Kingdom and bring down the minority Sunni rule. The decision by Bahrain, with the backing of Saudi Arabia, to normalize relations with Israel is expected to lead to an increase in Iranian subversion efforts in the kingdom through local Shiite terrorist groups and the Shiite opposition parties with assistance from the Lebanese Hizbullah. Leading Iranian media, such as Kayhan, which reflect the opinions of the Supreme Leader Khamenei, are already inciting Bahrainis to pick up arms to use weapons to protect their rights. Kayhan declares that Bahrain will be the first of the Gulf States to fall, and “the storm against Israel is rapidly approaching.”

“A Shameful Move that Will Result in Serious Consequences”

As in the case of the establishment of relations between Israel and the UAE, senior Iranian officials in Iran’s Foreign Ministry were quick to condemn the move by Bahrain, defining it (September 12, 2020) as “shameful” and harmful to the Palestinian people.

“This shameful act by Bahrain,” the spokesman continued, “slaughters the Palestinian ideology and the decades-long struggle and suffering of the Palestinian people on the altar of the American election. Undoubtedly, the oppressed and freedom-seeking people of Palestine and the freedom-seeking Muslims of the world will never accept the relations with the usurper and rebellious regime of Israel, and this shameful act will forever remain in the memory of the oppressed nation of Palestine and the freedom-loving nations of the world,” the statement added.

The spokesman also warned of “an infringement on the security of the region by the Zionist regime and said that the responsibility for such intervention rests on the shoulders of the Bahraini government.”

Hussein Amir-Abdollahian, an advisor to the chairman of the Majlis (Parliament), said, “Bahrain will be facing difficult times” he tweeted. “The Bahraini regime’s compromise w/ #Israel is a great betrayal to the Islamic cause & Palestinians. The imprudent leaders in UAE, #Bahrain must not pave the way for the Zionist schemes. They should learn lessons from history. Tomorrow is late! The U.S. lifeline has worn out for years.”1

A foreign ministry spokesman also said that in trying to drive a wedge between the Bahraini government and the Bahraini people, “the Government of Bahrain made a fundamental mistake by preferring to find refuge in the lap of the occupying regime of Jerusalem instead of gaining legitimacy from its people” and by “sacrificing the ideal of noble Palestine to the internal American elections.”

Iranian Revolutionary Guards: Bahrain’s Shiites Will Not Permit Normalization with Israel

Symbol of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards
Symbol of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ foreign relations office issued a bellicose statement on their website calling for rebellion and citizen protests in Bahrain. The Revolution Guards’ Quds Force, true to its intentions, will enforce the execution of such protests, including violent expressions and attacks by its terrorist proxies. The language of the message:

The executioner ruler of Bahrain should await harsh revenge of the Mujahideen (Islamic fighters) aiming to liberate Quds (Jerusalem) and the proud Muslim nation of this country.” The statement continued: “the shameful measure by Al-Khalifa and the dependent regime [stooge] ruling Bahrain in establishing relations with the Zionist regime against the wishes and ideals of that country’s Muslim nation is a big idiocy void of any legitimacy, and it will receive suitable responses.

Elsewhere, the statement said, “The domino effect of normalization of relations with the Zionist regime – which is through the rulers of certain Arab countries and the engineering of the White House and the hated and unwise U.S. president – follows their imposition of humiliation on Muslim nations and looting of their resources and wealth.”

Saying the U.S.-Gulf objective is to make the Palestinian territories safe for Israel, IRGC declared this project will never be fulfilled, and, on the contrary, it will give Muslim nations a stronger determination to “eliminate the cancerous tumor, Israel.”

The statement warns, “al-Khalifa and other arrogant traitors to the Bahraini regime against opening the gates to the entry and influence of the Zionist regime into the strategic area of the Persian Gulf and the Oman Sea.” The statement continued, “The tyrannical Bahraini regime’s cruel and satanic steps … don’t help the United States and supporters of the Zionist regime one bit. Those who support it will be the target for the Islamic nation’s holy rage and burning revenge, especially from the Shiite residents in Bahrain, who raise the banner of Imam Hussein bin Ali (symbol of Shiite martyrdom).2

Press TV, the Iranian propaganda channel in English, and al-Alem TV, which broadcasts to an Arab target audience, echoed the calls against the agreement, especially from protesting citizens of Bahrain. “The agreement is treason” and “Bahrain opposes normalization,” were press headlines. Kayhan newspaper’s editorial declared, “It is all too obvious that the pirate regime in occupation of the Persian Gulf island state of Bahrain, has signed its own death warrant by establishing ties with the illegal Zionist entity.”

Bahrain’s Shiite Opposition Party – “Betrayal of Islam” and an Illegitimate Move

Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society

Bahrain’s largest Shiite opposition party, the Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society (Jam’īyat al-Wifāq al-Waṭanī al-Islāmīyah) or the “Bloc of Believers,” acted in the spirit of its patron Iran and called the government’s relationship with the “Zionist enemy” (Israel) with the United States support, a “crime.”3 The party declared that the deal was illegal and that the rulers of Bahrain had no authority to take such a move that was “a betrayal of Islam and Arabism, a deviation from the broader Arab and Islamic consensus and harm to the Palestinian people.”4

Saraya Wa’ad Allah (The Promise of God), an Iranian-backed military wing of the Bahraini Shiite opposition group, was the first to officially react to the peace deal. “This false normalization is nothing but an update to the enabling of this cancerous tumor in the body of the (Islamic) Ummah, and it is rejected by reason, Sharia law, and the people.”5 On September 16, 2020, Saraya Wa’ad Allah announced the creation of Saraya Suhada al-Quds (martyrs of Jerusalem) to fight the “the Zionist presence in Bahrain.”6

Sarya Wa'ad Allah
Sarya Wa’ad Allah “fighting the Zionist presence.”

Bahrain, Iran’s 14th Province

Iran claims sovereignty over Bahrain and produces historical references to it from time to time. Bahrain was under Persian Rule (1602-1783), following an 80-year Portuguese occupation. In 1799, the House of Khalifa moved to Bahrain from Qatar, and they maintained a protectorate status to the British. After the end of the 1960s, Britain decided to withdraw its forces from the Persian Gulf, and Iran renewed its claims for sovereignty over the island. However, in a 1970 referendum, the people of Bahrain were required to decide between independence and becoming part of Iran. They chose independence. The Iranian Shah ceased to raise the issue, but after the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, Tehran put it on the agenda from time to time. In a dispute with the UAE, Iran also laid claims to sovereignty over three islands (Abu Musa, Greater Tunb, and Lesser Tunb) near the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

Abu Musa, Greater Tunb, and Lesser Tunb
The disputed islands (Abu Musa, Greater Tunb, and Lesser Tunb) near the Strait of Hormuz (Wikipedia).

Iranian officials continue to argue that until its independence, Bahrain was the 14th Province of Iran and was even represented in Iran’s Majlis (parliament). They also sharply criticize the Shah’s “shameful” decision to give it up. For example, Hossein Shariatmadari, editor-in-chief of Kayhan and a close associate of the Leader of Iran, stated in July 2007, “The governments of the Gulf states were established as a result of the direct interference of global condescension (western powers)… And were accused by their people of collaborating with the Zionist entity…. They know full well that the earthquake that shook Iran (the Islamic Revolution) would bring (sooner or later) the collapse of their illegal regimes.” He said it was not his personal opinion, but that of the Iranian and Bahraini people.7

These statements, which undermined Bahrain’s Arabness, independence, and sovereignty, although rare, feed the Bahraini concerns about Iran’s continued subversion and repeated attempts to overthrow the monarchy.

For Iran, Bahrain is a critical and charged issue, and over the years, it has been trying to incite the Shiite majority’s protests against the Sunni rule. The Bahraini decision to move toward normalization with Israel is also linked to internal developments within Bahrain and fears of the kingdom’s ongoing Shiite protests. The Shiite majority (70 percent) calls from time to time and with varying intensity to challenge the Sunni royal family.

The normalization of relations with Israel that Bahrain chose to take is yet another sign of the profound transformation that is reshaping the political and social landscape of the Middle East and redefining the region’s relations with the United States and Israel, in particular under Iran’s shadow across the Sunni-Shiite and Arab-Persian divide.

Iran Flipped the Arab Spring into an Islamic Awakening

With the outbreak of the Arab Spring 10 years ago, the popular protest swept the Arab world, including Bahrain. Bahrain embodies “the sums of all fears” and encapsulates the weaknesses of the Arab world in the face of Iran’s strengthening and projecting its military power a despite ongoing sanctions. At the same time, differences appear within Bahrain Shiites. They are still divided over the sources of Shiite religious authority (embodied by Supreme Ayatollah Khamenei or his rival Ayatollah Sistani), as well as ethnic and religious rivalries – Persians, Arabs, Shiites, and Sunnis.

In the dramatic course of normalizing relations with Israel, it appears that Bahrain openly chose the American shield against Iran’s looming shadow, showing the disconnect between normalization with Israel and solving the Palestinian problem. Washington is considered the kingdom’s main ally. The U.S. Fifth Fleet Command operates in Persian Gulf waters as a counterweight and a deterrent against Iran.

Vice Adm. Samuel Paparo met with Bahrain Defense Force Commander-in-Chief Field Marshal Shaikh Khalifa bin Ahmad Al-Khalifa
U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/5th Fleet/Combined Maritime Forces Commander Vice Adm. Samuel Paparo met with Bahrain Defense Force Commander-in-Chief Field Marshal Shaikh Khalifa bin Ahmad Al-Khalifa September 14, 2020 (U.S. Navy)

Bahrain is the arena of a major conflict in the Persian Gulf between two major regional forces. Iran (Shiite), which still sees itself as defining, representing, and leading the “new regional order” or the “Islamic Spring,” the one that was supposed to rebuild its vision on the ruins of the old American/Western order and the Arab regimes supported by it. Since the Arab Spring, Iran has tried with only partial success to exploit the weakness and fragmentation of the Arab countries (Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon). With these countries primarily busy maintaining their stability and understanding the U.S. position toward them, Iran has been increasing its political and military involvement. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia (Sunni) is involved in a desperate battle (including in its own backyard in Yemen) is trying to preserve something of the old order that is crumbling under its feet.

The Confrontation with Iran

During the Arab Spring in 2011, Saudi Arabia dispatched to Bahrain the Peninsula Shield Force to prevent Bahrain from falling into the hands of the Iranian-backed Shiite majority. It was sent to the kingdom in the framework of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Defense Agreement to assist Bahrain in protecting its “vital facilities and interests,” and, in fact, it prevented a coup in Bahrain.

In doing so, Saudi Arabia signaled that it was ready to confront Iran and showed a new face to its historic rivalry. The fall of Bahrain to the Shiites – for which Tehran pushed ten years ago – would have granted Tehran direct access from the east (Bahrain borders with Saudi Arabia) into the heart of the Sunni world. Later, with the Shiite Houthi rebels, Iran managed to gain a foothold on the southern border of Saudi Arabia, in Yemen.

Iran is constantly working on strengthening Shiite parties in Bahrain, such as the al-Ashtar Brigades. With the help of the Lebanese Hizbullah, Iran incites these parties to protest, even violently, against the regime.

As part of the Iranian campaign, Grand Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Ahmed Qassim of Bahrain, issued a stern statement opposing the normalization of relations between Bahrain and Israel. Sheikh Isa supports the absolute theocratic rule of Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei (Velayat-e faqih) and even relates to him as the venerated Imam Hussein of our times. Iran also tries to weaken Shiites parties that support the Quietist Shiite model (separation of political and clerical power), which finds expression in the model of power in Iraq and its main representative, the Grand Ayatollah Ali Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani and even some of the Shiite clerics in Lebanon, such as Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, before his death in 2010.

Following Bahrain’s announcement to normalize its relations with Israel, Iran incited blatantly calling on the Shiites in the kingdom to come out and demonstrate against the “betrayal,” as it is reflected in the statement issued by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and by other Iranian spokesmen.

Ayatollah Issa Qassim of Bahrain
Ayatollah Issa Qassim of Bahrain, supporter of the Supreme Leader Khamenei

Iran is concerned that Shiites in Iraq, in Bahrain, and other Gulf countries, Lebanon, and even Iran may shift their support to Ali al- Sistani brand of Shiism. Therefore, Iran tries to strengthen those Shiite clerics who see the Iranian leader, Khamenei, as a source of emulation. Iran also tries to nurture in those Shiites in Bahrain, some of whom are of Arab origin and some of Persian origin, a unique Shiite identity and affinity to the Iranian leader. In this context, Iran provides them generous financial assistance, helps Shiite organizations, and even provides to some weapons with the assistance of Hizbullah.

Iran does not suffice with words and works vigorously to destabilize Bahrain mainly through the recruitment and incitement of the Shiites and Hizbullah fighters in Lebanon (and modeled on local Shiite militias in Iraq and Yemen). This way, Iran advances its interests and prepares the ground for overthrowing the government in Bahrain using secret intelligence-gathering cells and organizing Shiites to protest and acts of subversion.

Malik al-Ashtar Brigades – an Iranian Force to Topple the Royal House in Bahrain

In this context, in 2013, the Quds Forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps were behind the establishment of the Islamic Resistance in Bahrain along the model of “Hizbullah” in Lebanon. Malik al-Ashtar Brigades, also called Saraya al-Ashtar, aims to overthrow the Bahraini monarchy.8

The Revolutionary Guards Corps even provided to al-Ashtar Brigades explosives, weapons, and training, some of which took place in Iraqi camps. The terrorist organization carried out several attacks, including assassinations and car bombings, against the Bahrain security forces and security targets, in which police officers and members of the security forces were killed. One of the police officers killed in a terrorist attack carried out by the organization in 2014 was a UAE policeman, stationed in Bahrain as part of the forces sent by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in 2011 to suppress an attempted coup.

Logo of the Al-Ashtar Brigades
Logo of the Al-Ashtar Brigades: the overthrow of the royal house in Bahrain

Since July 2018, the U.S. State Department included the Al-Ashtar organization in its list of terrorist organizations.9 Following extensive and ongoing counterterrorism activities by the Bahrain authorities, it was discovered that several of the organization’s operatives had found refuge in Iran. Bahrain’s security forces have arrested some of the organization’s operatives, and some of them have been executed.

Many diplomatic cables revealed by WikiLeaks pointed out to senior U.S. officials that the Bahraini monarchy and other Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia, were deeply concerned with both the political (“Bahrain is a part of Iran”) and military (nuclear and naval) threats posed by Iran. Bahrain is also concerned about subversion of its government, the growing Iranian impact in the region, especially in Iraq and in the Persian Gulf. It was discussed in the cables that Bahrain and other Gulf States needed to formulate a regional Arab response and creation of the international umbrella to protect from those threats.

Bahrain blames Iran for its intention to overthrow the regime the way Iran tried in the early 1980s, when it was behind a failed coup attempt and again in 1994 when it established Hizbullah in Bahrain and even trained its operatives in Syria.

In 1996, Bahrain uncovered on its territory Hizbullah cells, called Hizbullah Bahrain. These cells were inspired by the Lebanese Hizbullah and were established with its assistance. Earlier in 1981, security forces in Bahrain unveiled the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain, which was trained and financed by Iranian intelligence and acted to stage a coup in Bahrain.

The Iranian method of operation is similar in any country where there is a Shiite majority or minority. It recruits the Lebanese Hizbullah, which possesses the knowledge and experience it gained during the rounds of fighting against Israel and trains the operatives in Lebanon and Iran. Iran operates the Quds Forces and official Iranian institutions that work to locate, recruit, and train local operatives, who will constitute future Hizbullah cells. This way, Hizbullah Al-Hejaz, Hizbullah movement in Iraq, Hizbullah Bahrain (al-Ashtar Brigades), and others were established.

Bahrain considers Lebanese Hizbullah a “terrorist organization.” In the past year, Bahrain has also taken a series of measures and financial penalties against Iranian individuals and banks suspected of laundering money and transferring it to support terrorism or to circumvent sanctions in the kingdom. These banks include the Bank of Iran, Mali Bank, and Sadrat Bank that operate banks in Bahrain, The Future Bank, to launder money. In August, Bahrain also set up a committee to fight terrorism and extremism, with an emphasis on stopping funding of these organizations.

Convenient Infrastructure for Subversive Activities

Since the outbreak of the Arab Spring, Iran finds in Bahrain a convenient infrastructure for political-religious subversion.

Firstly, the proximity to Iran greatly facilitates Iran’s ability to assist Shiites in Bahrain. Secondly, the Shiite population (the Persian part) has become more attentive to Iran in recent years, in light of its disappointment with the Bahraini reforms designed to weaken the Shiite opposition through its inclusion in a kind of toothless parliament. The successes of the Shiites in Iraq serve as a kind of encouragement to the Shiites in Bahrain. Thirdly, regional and international circumstances contribute to the “increasing hunger” of the Shiites: the democratic elections in Iraq, the results of which reflected the Shiite majority, the strong position of Hizbullah in Lebanon after the Second Lebanon War and its political establishment in Lebanon, the successes of the Houthi rebels in Yemen and their steadfast stand against Saudi Arabia, including the capture of the Yemenite capital Sana’a. Fourthly, Iran continues to exploit the collective weakness of the Sunni Arab in the absence of a leading power cores, for example, the symbols of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and to some extent, Hafez al-Assad in Syria. This way, Iran is trying to use the vacuum to direct changes in Bahrain the way it desires.

Shiite social networks in Bahrain and their affiliation with Shiite social networks in countries with a majority of Shiite population played a key role during the attempted coup in the Arab Spring in Bahrain in terms of spreading and inciting protests, as well as coordinating with Shiite parties outside Bahrain. Bahraini bloggers (some of whom have been arrested by the authorities), opposition forums, and websites have also been active during previous rounds of silent and violent protests against the regime during 2007 and 2008. A unique feature of Bahraini virtual space is that it is a part of the broader Shiite context and affiliations. In cyberspace, Bahraini Shiites find “sympathetic ears,” words of encouragement, and practical advice, as well as ideas common to Shiites in a broader context.

The Shiite protest in Bahrain resonates in Hizbullah’s forums in Lebanon. Images and videos uploaded in Bahrain echo in Hizbullah’s blogs and forums in Iraq and vice versa. This way, inspired by Iran, a kind of “Shiite virtual fraternity” is created, which in the end finds expression far beyond the virtual dimension.

Iran’s hopes for a speedy overthrow of the Bahraini monarchy were quickly proven to be false. Iran had hoped that Bahrain would become another link in what it has defined as “divine events” since the beginning of the 21st century, including the IDF’s withdrawal from Lebanon, the Second Intifada, the Second Lebanon War, and “Operation Cast Lead” in Gaza.

During the Arab Spring protest in Bahrain, Khamenei stressed that the Bahraini struggle is similar to the struggle in other Arab countries and should therefore be supported. In a propaganda message issued by Khamenei, he also emphasized that Iran supports Bahrain not because of Bahrain’s Shiite majority, but the way it has been supporting the Palestinian struggle for the past 32 years. In his message, he said, “We do not differentiate between Gaza, Palestine, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen – tyranny everywhere is doomed to failure.”

In 2011, the Iranians made similar claims to those made today in the face of the establishment of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, according to which the United States has nurtured the monarchies in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates to maintain its dominance in the region.

Mohammad Ali Jafari, former commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guards, pointed out in April 2011 that the common denominator of all revolutions against the “corrupt rulers in the region” is the loyalty of these rulers to the United States and Israel. He emphasized that “the residents of Bahrain cannot tolerate such humiliation.” The Saudi military intervention in Bahrain was defined by the Revolutionary Guards Corps commander as a “strategic error” that would bring Bahrain’s end closer.

A Strategic Shift in the Regional Power Equations

The normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and Bahrain and the UAE reflects the strategic developments in the region that come from the changing centers and balances of power and the priorities of the Arab world. Some are the result of the Arab Spring, and some are derived from the growing concern of the Gulf States from Iran’s lengthening shadow that brings them closer to the United States and Israel. The Gulf States have decided to rely on the United States (and Israel) in stark contrast to Tehran’s repeated declarations that Gulf security should be in the hands of countries on its shores.

The evolution of Iran’s proxy militias
The evolution of Iran’s proxy militias. (View in reverse, from right to left, Al-Sharq al Awsat, London, September 12, 2020)

Iran had hoped and still hopes that it would be able to translate the shock waves of the Arab Spring and the continued weakness of the Sunni Arab camp into a Shiite-led Islamic awakening, whereby it takes the central place in the leadership of the new Middle East. Against this backdrop, Iran will continue to present itself (with Turkey breathing down its neck) as someone who remains true to the Palestinian vision of “liberating Palestine from sea to river” and to head the resistance camp, emphasizing the betrayal of the Palestinian people by the Sunni Arabs.

Faced with the stinging normalization decision by Bahrain – a country with a Shiite majority – Iran will further emphasize the growing influence of Shiites in the region. The Shiites, who, Iran believes, have lived since the dawn of Islam with a constant sense of degradation by the Sunnis, are now inspired by each other and the Shiite successes in Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, and Yemen. They aspire to take a historical place of honor that will lead the Islamic world in a new Islamic world order.

For Iran, the Bahrain campaign is not over yet; it has only entered a dangerous new phase and slid toward a sensitive area where parts of Iran still see it as part of its own flesh. Iran’s attempts to destabilize Bahrain, via the Shiite majority and terrorist organizations recruited from within and aided by the successful model of the Lebanese Hizbullah, all suggest a violent future. Iranian propaganda is already inciting the Shiite majority against the normalization. Bahrain has many Iranian-inspired terrorist cells dating back to the time of Qassem Soleimani. Most of the cells were thwarted by Bahrain, but it seems that those who have not been apprehended will be able to act to undermine stability.

Another question is whether Iran, showing a genuine fear of the “Zionist presence” in the Persian Gulf region, will attempt to carry out a Crimean-style invasion of Bahrain to restore what it believes to belong to Iran, endangering a direct confrontation with the United States. It is likely that Iran has discussed such a scenario and has contingency plans to implement it. Iran also sees Bahrain as a springboard to drive its influence into the Sunni territory and to encircle Saudi Arabia from Iraq (northeast), Yemen (in the south), Bahrain (to the east) through Shiite-majority countries. In addition, Iran could stir up the oil-rich eastern Saudi Arabia, where there is a large Shiite minority.

* * *

Notes

1 https://twitter.com/Amirabdolahian/status/1304478825976340482

2 ttps://tinyurl.com/khabaronline1431781

3 https://twitter.com/aa_arabic/status/1304635850043482113

4 https://twitter.com/ALWEFAQ/status/1304403745648898050

5 https://twitter.com/HassanDika10/status/1306293979827392512

6 https://www.al-abdal.net/20626

7 https://search.proquest.com/docview/2067530426/27354AF6396E4B61PQ/1?accountid=173708 “כיהאן” Keyhan 14 יולי 2007

8 Malik Al-Ashtar was one of Imam Ali’s close associates and fought as a warrior in Islam’s early battles.

9 https://www.state.gov/state-department-terrorist-designation-of-al-ashtar-brigades-aab/