I don’t get it. There seems little percentage, from either a practical or moral point of view, in a harsh crack down on Bahraini protesters. Yet this is what the monarchy of that vulnerable island nation has done, with the help of Saudi Arabia – and of course by implication the US. At least that is the implication in the Arab world.
This has prompted the government of Iran, which is the real “heavy” in the region, to begin making noises that it will intervene.
To give some perspective: the south coast of the Persian Gulf is littered with small, generally wealthy and quasi-independent nations such as the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Oman. Bahrain is an island in the southwest portion of the Gulf. I say “quasi-independent” because all of those nations are loosely under the influence and umbrella of Saudi Arabia.
The north coast of the Persian Gulf consists almost exclusively of one nation: Iran. Population wise and otherwise, Iran is much larger than any of the other nations I mentioned; indeed, it is considerably larger than all of them put together.
Remarkably, in the 30 years since the mullahs took over in Iran, that country has shown little or no inclination to overtly exert its natural influence over the smaller nations just across the Gulf, a geographic separation little different than the US and Canada being separated in part by the Great Lakes. Whether they have done so or are doing so covertly is a constant concern of Saudi Arabia and by extension the US. In fact it is widely believed by the Saudis and the US that Iran has taken steps to increase the more Iran-friendly Shiite population in Bahrain precisely to destabilize the government there, and to give them an excuse to intervene.
That belief more or less obliges the Saudis and the US to react belligerently to any assertion of interest or authority by Iran in the Bahraini uprising.
Which brings us back to the original point: if this is a powder keg waiting to go off, why would the monarchy in Bahrain light a match at this juncture? There are no indications or even allegations that protesters in Bahrain have been violent towards people or property, so why the heavy hand?
There are elements within the US government that are looking for an excuse to confront Iran militarily. Perhaps that explains it. In any case, it is a worrisome development.
Update: In this report, the King of Bahrain is claiming that protests were militarily suppressed because they were “fomented” by unnamed foreign powers, which of course means Iran. How the king apparently believes this inference will not be drawn simply because he does not name the country he’s referring to is probably unimportant other than as a mild amusement. In any case, the ball is in Iran’s court. This remains worrisome.