The Iranian mullah administration looks upon the Gulf leaders with great suspicion, as it perceives both Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf States as proxies of United States’ interests in the Middle East, and has always wanted to see the downfall of the Gulf monarchies, with an Iranian-style Islamic republic installed to replace them. But besides this, the mullahs also lay claim to Bahrain, which the Iranian leadership still perceives as sovereign Iranian territory.
Not long after Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in 1979, Iran declared Bahrain to be its 14th province. Then at a later date, in February 2009, Ali Akbar Nuri, an advisor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, announced that until Bahrain’s independence, the kingdom had been represented in the Iranian parliament as Iran’s 14th province; which it still is in the eyes of the regime’s clerical leadership.
In December 2010, mass anti-government riots took place in Tunisia, and in no time at all, countries like Algeria, Jordan, Egypt and Yemen began to feel the fallout, as the insurrection spread like wildfire across the region, and one after another, governments were being shaken or overthrown.
The Arab Spring
On January 14, 2011, the Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia. Not long following, on February 11, came the resignation of Egypt’s leader President Hosni Mubarak, while in the wake of this, the stirrings of dissent reached Syria that same month. Mass demonstrations began to take place in Bahrain, and then, on August 23, came the overthrow of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi. So with leaders falling like dominoes, it mattered not how tough they were. The Arab Spring was in full swing.
With protests, demonstrations, and uprisings continuing across the region, it was the upheaval in Egypt and Bahrain that unsettled the Gulf nations the most, especially with Saudi Arabia’s near neighbor and ally Bahrain facing mass protests from the country’s Shia community, whipped up by a pro-Iranian political group.
With Bahrain’s anti-monarchist Shia opposition Al Wefaq leading the protests, the Bahraini government picked up intelligence of a Hezbollah presence on the streets, stirring up rioters, and with broadcasts coming through Hezbollah’s radio network, egging the protestors on, the situation became ever more sinister.
With Hezbollah being a known proxy of the Iranian regime, which would never make such moves without the blessing of its Iranian backers, it all pointed to Iran being the main instigator of these riots. The regime’s operatives are experts in concealing their true identity and allegiance, they infiltrate various institutions, including Shia political organizations or Human rights groups, and through rigorous training, which they receive at Quds Force training camps in Iran or Lebanon, they have perfected the art of penetrating various groups, as well as the recruitment of volunteers to aid their cause.
Quds Force training camps are sophisticated facilities, and potential recruits usually enter the host country through a third to avoid detection. They are carefully vetted to ensure they are ideologically sound, and where infiltration of organizations or subversive operations are concerned, trainees are chosen from the targeted nation, so as not to stand out or cause suspicion.
But what rang alarm bells more than anything during Bahrain’s upheaval, was past statements made by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the spiritual founder of the Iranian Islamic Republic, promising to protect Shia communities across the globe, and also Iran's continued occupation of the three United Arab Emirate islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb since 1971, which has proved that invasion by the regime to extend Iran's expansionist policies could still be a possibility.
The Khobar Towers attack in Saudi Arabia on June 25, 1996, in which a truck-bomb killed 19 US servicemen and injured 498 people of various nationalities, was also a pointer towards Hezbollah’s potential if it decided to strike inside the Kingdom.
So with Hezbollah being an active proxy force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and the Quds Force, whose remit is planning and conducting attacks outside of Iran, the authorities in Bahrain knew that Iran had the means to strike, and would go to any lengths to use their terror puppet to undermine the political systems of the Gulf, which made the Bahrain riots a wakeup call for the Saudis.
As the Arab Spring took hold, so did the violent turmoil, which many countries still reeling from it to this day. So not wanting to have an Iranian instigated uprising spread to its own kingdom, Saudi Arabia sent its army into Bahrain at the request of the Bahraini government to help quell the 2011 rioting, and restore order to the streets.
At a time when Iranian influence seemed to be on the wane throughout the Arab world, the Arab Spring gave the Iranian leadership a confidence boost, as Khamenei was convinced the uprisings were an Islamic awakening, inspired by Iran’s 1979 revolution. It was at this point, with the overthrow of the pro-American administrations in Yemen and Tunisia, as well as that of America’s most powerful and loyal ally Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Khamenei felt certain that the Gulf monarchies would be next. He was convinced that with American influence in the area severely weakened, Iran would be able step in to fill the power vacuum.
So with Saudi Arabia having already suffered 128 terrorist operations in the past 15 years, its administration had become very vigilant as to any form of extremist activity in both Bahrain and on its own territory.
Terror cell busted
Following this, came the recent Hezbollah activity in Bahrain. A terror cell was broken up in 2016, when two brothers, who were said to have been members of the outlawed Al Wafa Islamic Movement, were liaising with leaders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah, who provided them with $30,000 a month, to aid them in setting up a new Iranian-backed terror group named Al Basta (The Gathering), to coordinate attacks to topple the Bahrain government.
One of the brothers, told how they had been in touch with members of the terror group that carried out a fatal bombing in July 2015, which killed two policemen and injured six others, in the Shi’ite village of Sitra. He went on to explain how his other brother had travelled to Iran, staying for two years, and had become a go-between for Al Wafa in Bahrain and the Iranian regime, feeding intelligence to the IRGC about the current situation in Bahrain.
Then with Vladimir Putin having backed the Iranian regime in Syria, allowed Bashar al-Assad to regain ground, and Aleppo fell to the Syrian regime. By this time, Iran’s military had been revitalised with various forms of hi-tech weaponry, and was becoming much bolder, which was highlighted by utterances of threats coming from senior IRGC commanders, as their rhetoric became more warlike.
Threat of repercussions
Also, in June 2016, during a visit to Syria, Maj. Gen. Qassim Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force, turned his venom on Bahrain, threatening repercussions after the Gulf kingdom’s leading Shia cleric had been stripped of citizenship. The repercussions, as Soleimani saw them, would come in the form of armed resistance by the Shia community, and in his words: “Al Khalifa will definitely pay the price for that and their bloodthirsty regime will be toppled.”
According to the deputy commander of the IRGC, Hossein Salami, the fall of Aleppo was the start of an ongoing military campaign in the region, which would eventually extend to the liberation of Bahrain, including an operation to secure a victory in Mosul, and a drive to wrestle control of the country from government hands in Yemen, placing it into the hands of Iran’s Houthi allies, all of this pointing to a very dangerous time to come.