By Dr. Chuck Missler
While the world focuses on Libya, another serious conflict is quaking the tiny island nation of Bahrain in the western Persian Gulf. Bahrain covers less than 300 square miles, but the growing tensions between its Sunni monarchy and Shiite majority have drawn in the power of neighboring giant Saudi Arabia. The discord in Bahrain thus offers significant tremors to threaten the already shaky stability of the region.
Like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain is run by a Sunni monarchy. Yet, its population is 70 percent Shiite Muslim, and just like other oppressed peoples across the Middle East, those Shiites have risen up and demanded greater rights since February. In March, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates responded to a cry for help from Bahrain's leadership and sent in 1,500 troops to force the Shiites back down. At least 430 arrests have been made, and Human Rights Watch reports that 3 people have died while held by the police. The recovered body of Ali Isa Ibrahim Saqer, 31, was covered with bruises and lacerations that demonstrated that he had been viciously beaten while in custody.
While the West is quick to jump on the human rights problem in Libya, there has been far less attention focused on violence against the Shiites in these nations friendly to America. The reason for this is obvious; nobody wants to give moral support to Iran - that large and dangerous Shiite nation just across the waters of the Persian Gulf. While Western nations do not condone the mistreatment of civilians and prisoners, there is an uncomfortable hush about how to deal with troublesome demonstrators that threaten to push the region toward the Persian power.
The Washington Post reported on Friday that US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the US had spoken to the Bahraini leadership on behalf of the demonstrators and called for Bahrain to use a political process that "advances the rights and aspirations of all the citizens of Bahrain." Some people doubt the sincerity of such statements, including human-rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja whose father, husband and brother-in-law were arrested this weekend.
"Even though the American administration's words are all about freedom and democracy and change, in Bahrain, the reality is that they're basically a protection for the dictatorship," she said.
The US does want a balance of power in the region, and the Obama administration's relationship with the Saudi government was shaken when President Obama supported the ousting of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak after nearly 30 years in power. The US is trying to mend things on the Arabian Peninsula. However, the Bahrain government's harsh crackdown, besides its cruelty, may give more moral power to those who would pull Bahrain's Shiites into terror groups or toward Iran.
On April 18th, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responded to the uprisings by calling for unity in the Middle East. "Safety and stability of the region depends on honest unity and cooperation between nations and leaders in the region," Ahmadinejad said in a speech.
Of course, "unity" with Iran would not bring a peaceful region dominated by daisies and soft guitar music. "Unity" to Ahmadinejad means a bloc of Shiite-dominated countries - countries with eyes set on the destruction of Israel .
In the interest of Shiite causes, Iran has come to the defense of the demonstrators in Bahrain. The former chief of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Yahya Rahim-Safavi told reporters, "The presence of Saudi forces in Bahrain to suppress the Bahraini people is against international law and is a kind of military interference in the internal affairs of Bahrain which is condemned from the international law standpoint."
Iran rarely demonstrates any warm affection for human rights – or international law. However, Iran is not about to miss out on opportunities to scavenge the hearts and minds of people longing for a better way of life.
In the meanwhile, as attention has been turned to the Middle East unrest, Iran has had greater freedom to smuggle arms to terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. Haaretz reports that Iran has been using a northern smuggling route through Turkey and Syria as well as a southern route through Sudan and Egypt to smuggle arms into Gaza. Egyptian security forces are worried that the convoys going through their country will supply arms to terrorist groups there.
Iran is also smuggling money to Israel's enemies. In March, Israel's Air Force attacked a car of Hamas operatives transporting close to $18 million.
Israeli officials told Haaretz: "Iran is inciting the entire region, from Afghanistan and Yemen to Egypt and Morocco."
While they represent a very small portion of the Middle East population, the people of Bahrain have offered Iran another weapon to gather angry followers against the West, against America, and especially against Israel.
Analysis: How long can Saudi Arabia hold off reforms? - Reuters
Why Saudi Arabia Should Be Worried About Iran's Next Move - The Business Insider
Bahrain Minister Says Gulf Troops to Stay as Counter to Iran - Bloomberg
Iran 'steps up gunrunning to Arab proxies' - UPI
Saudi youth call for Revolution Day demos on Friday - Tehran Times