Bahrain Today - Not Fantasy Island
December 5, 2011
By Darlene Casella
The Island Kingdom of Bahrain has been a port of call for millennia. In ancient times Sumerians believed that Bahrain was Paradise, where the wise and brave enjoyed eternal life. She sits in the heart of the Persian Gulf, along trade routes between Asia and the West. The 15-mile King Faud Causeway links her to Saudi Arabia. Why has this kingdom, smaller than New York City, come to be in grave peril?
Archeologists have found ancient Indian, Chinese, and Arabian coins. Islam arrived in the 7th Century, and was met by Bahraini Christians. After centuries of conflict, the Sunni Al-Khalifa family captured Bahrain from the Persians in 1783. Oil was discovered in 1932. Treaties made it a British protectorate.
Independence came in 1971 under the rule of Sheikh Isa ibn Sulman Al Khalifh. His eldest son, Hamad, became King in 1999. A delicate balance of power existed until 2010 when the Wifaq, a Shia political society, won a large bloc of seats in Parliament. This year Arab protests brought hard-line activists and unrest.
Shia protestors reject the Sunni King. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council members blame Iran for inciting upheaval.
Military police were accused of mistreating and torture of detainees. The King established The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) in June 2011 to assess complaints. On November 23rd, BICI reported its findings. Minister Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmad Al Khalifa told Gulf News that abuses had been committed. He promised that the government will implement the BICI recommendations immediately. He stressed that Iran is trying to destabilize the whole Arab world.
The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, addressed worshipers during prayers “We are very worried about the situation in Bahrain.” Experts believe that Iran is working for destabilization in Bahrain, Gaza, Iraq, Lebanon, and Kuwait. Iran works with Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad. Iran’s efforts are to prepare for a confrontation with Israel and the United States. Weakened Gulf States will be in no position to stand against Iran.
According to Foreign Minister Ahmad Al Halifa, “Iran wants Bahrain to be Iran’s “Jewel in the Crown” of Gulf States. The threat is grave, and Arab countries must not stand alone facing Iran; but pay attention to Iran’s dangers, which come under a thousand guises.”
Senator John McCain from Arizona affirmed in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that Iran is trying to orchestrate events in Bahrain. He elaborated that Iran seeks to spread its influence into the Arabian Peninsula and he pointed to Bahrain as evidence. McCain further stated that it is important to combine activities against Iran before she succeeds in building nuclear weapons.
Bahrain has been a key player for offshore banking and financial services due to their legal system and strong business ethic. To overcome the impact of social unrest, closed banks and shops, and capital flight; Bahrain is reaffirming its commitment to economic growth. On November 26th, in Munich, Tamkeen signed an agreement with German Chemicals BASF. It will be the largest plant in the Middle East.
The United States Chamber of Commerce has a large presence. There is a U.S. Bahrain Business Council to help Bahrain take advantage of the Chamber’s network of business relationships.
More than 25,000 Sailors and Marines are assigned to the U.S. Naval Forces Commander, 5th Fleet; off the coast of Bahrain. Their mission is to ensure peace and stability, and protect America’s interests in the Red Sea, the Arabian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, and parts of the Indian Ocean. They conduct peacetime military exercises with allies in the region.
Fitch, and Standard and Poor’s rating agencies have given Batelco (Bahrain Telecommunications) a credit rating of BBB-; and A-3 for short term foreign and local currency ratings. These ratings pave the way for the issuance of investment grade bonds.
President Barack Obama received a blunt message from Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid Al Khalifa. “You’ve denounced Iran’s plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in Washington. But what is the US actually doing to let Iran show that it is serious? We are asking the US to stand up and to draw lines in the sand. We haven’t seen any proper response that is serious coming from your shores.”
A Middle Eastern vacuum of US leadership make Turkey and Iran the current power players. China and Russia accept Iran’s word that nuclear power plants are for energy generation and not weapons, in spite of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report. Putin and Khamenei are both against NATO’s Missile Defense System. After Putin is elected president, he might draw lines in the sand. On which side of the line would Putin stand? It is a complex riddle.
The Jewish State of Israel sits amid Arab Nations, Bahrain and other Persian Gulf Kingdoms. All have nervous anticipation with regard to Iran. Khamenei repeatedly promises death to Israel. The Ayatollah threatened Turkey with a bomb to take out the newly installed NATO Defense Shield; and forecast starting a war that could spread across the Middle East. If Khamenei does not intend to launch nuclear missiles, one might ponder why he is so enraged about the Defense Shield.