According to STRATFOR sources, fear is growing among the Gulf Cooperation Council states that Iran may be playing a role in stoking regional unrest. Meanwhile, Iran is spreading reports that Saudi forces are helping Bahrain to put down Shiite unrest in the island country. Both sides have an interest in playing up these claims, but there could be an element of truth in the apparent perception management campaign currently under way in the Persian Gulf region.
In the latest statement from an Iranian official condemning Bahrain’s heavy-handed crackdown on Shiite protesters, the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s director-general for the Persian Gulf and Middle East, Amir Abdollahian, said Feb. 19 that the Bahraini government should respect the rights of the Bahraini people and “pave the way for the materialization of people’s demands.” Alone, these statements may not capture much attention, but they are being issued amid concerns that Iran could have a hand in facilitating unrest among Shiite populations in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. This is particularly true of the island of Bahrain, where mostly Shiite protesters retook Pearl Square in the capital city of Manama on Feb. 19 after security forces withdrew.
According to STRATFOR’s Saudi and Kuwaiti diplomatic sources, discussions have been under way among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states over (what they perceive as) an alleged Iranian fifth column prodding unrest in the Persian Gulf states. These regimes often justify crackdowns by claiming external meddling, but there may be something more to the allegations. The sources claim that Saudi and Kuwaiti intelligence services have been tracking the number of Lebanese Shia living in the United Arab Emirates who have entered Bahrain and have been participating in the demonstrations. Bahraini authorities allegedly arrested a small number of Hezbollah operatives during the Feb. 16 crackdown on demonstrators camping out in Pearl Square.
Meanwhile, a source in Hezbollah claimed that, beginning in January, roughly 100 Hezbollah operatives entered the UAE — usually the emirates of Fujairah and Abu Dhabi — on work permits for businesses run by native Shiite Bahrainis who receive financing from Iran. From there, the Hezbollah operatives would shuttle between Bahrain, other GCC states and their places of residence in the UAE. This information has not been corroborated and could well be part of an Iranian campaign to exaggerate the threat levers it holds in its Arab neighbors.
Nonetheless, in an apparent effort to crack down on this suspected Hezbollah traffic through the GCC, Kuwait, where Shia make up 10 percent of the population, and Saudi Arabia, where Shia — 30 percent of the population — are concentrated in the kingdom’s oil-rich eastern province, have very recently begun applying new entry procedures for Lebanese citizens living in GCC countries. According to reports, Lebanese previously could obtain a visa at the Kuwaiti port of entry, but as of last week, Kuwaiti immigration authorities have issued a new requirement for visas to be obtained in advance from a Kuwaiti Consulate, a typically lengthy procedure. A Saudi diplomatic source told STRATFOR that the Saudi government is implementing similar restrictions on Lebanese Shia traveling to Saudi Arabia. These procedures are intended to prevent Iran from exercising its levers among the Shiite populations of these countries to prod further unrest and destabilize the Gulf Arab regimes.
Iran’s intelligence apparatus is known to have developed linkages with Shiite communities in its Arab neighbors, but the extent of Iran’s leverage in these countries remains unclear. The continued willingness of young Shiite protesters in Bahrain to confront the country’s security apparatus at great odds and risk their lives has raised suspicions in STRATFOR that an external element could be involved in escalating the protests, provoking Bahraini security forces into using gratuitous force. Of course, the protesters reject any suggestion they are being supported or controlled by foreign elements, and the Bahraini government’s decision to cede Pearl Square, the epicenter of the protests, in order to appease the political opposition suggests that the government is reluctant to treat the protests as merely the illegitimate product of foreign malice.
Since the first protests began in Bahrain on Feb. 14, Iranian media, as well as STRATFOR’s Iranian diplomatic sources, have made it a point to spread stories on the deployment of Saudi special operations forces to Bahrain to help put down the unrest. Saudi assistance to Bahrain is certainly plausible given Saudi concern that Shiite unrest could spread to the kingdom. However, the apparently concerted Iranian effort to disseminate the story raises the question of whether Iran is deliberately shaping perceptions in order to lay the groundwork for its own intervention on behalf of Bahrain’s marginalized Shiite population.
There is likely a strong degree of perception management on both sides of the Persian Gulf. Iran is drawing attention to Saudi support for Bahrain, and the Arab regimes are playing up the idea of Iranian-backed subversives in an attempt to delegitimize the demonstrations and capture Washington’s attention for support at a time when they feel the United States is leaving the Arabs vulnerable to Iranian aggressions. Yet, more often than not, an element of truth is ingrained in such perception management campaigns, and the regional circumstances make it very possible that Iran is seizing an opportunity to covertly destabilize its Arab neighbors. The sustainability of the Bahrain demonstrations will likely provide important clues in this regard. The emergence of Shia-led protests in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, both of which have thus far been relatively quiet amid the regional unrest, would also raise a red flag. In addition, the composition and strength of opposition demonstrations in Iran, which thus far have not posed a meaningful threat to the regime, bear close watching for signs of meddling by Iran’s adversaries in a broader tit-for-tat campaign.
Artículo No 17
Ban all weapons sales to authoritarian regimes
· British governments have been deeply selective in what they profess to know about human rights abuses when it comes to approving arms deals
· The Observer, Sunday 20 February 2011
When it comes to approving the sale of arms to unpleasant regimes, as the cases of Bahrain and Libya displayed depressingly last week, British governments, Labour and coalition, have been deeply selective in what they profess to know about human rights abuses and their criteria for refusal. It is to be welcomed that the government has now revoked the licences, but in the case of Bahrain there should have been no excuse. In the past two years, as each batch of new arms licences was waved through, Bahrain's government and its National Security Service committed well-documented abuses. In 2009, Bahraini police used shotguns twice to disperse people demonstrating against the seizure of their land by the military. Last year, in the run-up to elections, 250 opposition activists were arrested on "terrorism" charges.
It is not only human rights organisations and opposition groups that have documented Bahrain's decline into being an authoritarian regime after a number of years in the last decade when it appeared to forswear the use of torture. In 2009, even the US State Department – not always the most reliable documenter of abuses – noted that Bahrain had reinstituted the use of torture, including beatings and electric shocks, a finding confirmed both by the country's own courts and Human Rights Watch a year later.
This leads to the question of what precisely are the criteria – the "strictest in the world", according to foreign secretary William Hague – that allowed the sale of weapons to a torturing regime with a recent history of using shotguns for crowd control and which claimed five lives on Thursday morning at the Pearl Roundabout.
This weekend, as British arms manufacturers show their wares at the Idex arms fair in Abu Dhabi, seems a good moment to reflect on precisely to whom we sell. A properly enforced blanket ban on those who use torture, lock up political opponents and use guns on protesters would be a place to start, regardless of the economic cost.