A senior leader of the Iranian army has mocked Gulf Arab states for their disappointment in Syria and threatened that after the victory in Aleppo it would be the turn of places such as Bahrain, Yemen and Iraq’s Mosul.
“The people of Bahrain will get their wish, the people of Yemen will be happy and the residents of Mosul will taste victory,” the deputy commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, General, Hossein Salami, told his country’s IRNA news agency. “All of this is God’s promise.”
In announcing the retaking of Aleppo, by Assad’s Alawites, with considerable help from Iran and from the Lebanese Hizballah, as well as from much smaller contingents of Shi’a from Afghanistan and Pakistan (two countries where the Shi’a have long been the object of murderous attacks by the majority Sunnis), the Iranian commander General Hossein Salami made clear that the victory in Syria would embolden Iran everywhere in the Middle East to further “conquests.”
In Bahrain, the Shi’a are 70% of the population, and have been engaged for several years in a low-level revolt against the rule of the Sunni Al Khalifa family. The Ruler of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa, has managed so far to suppress his Shi’a subjects by relying mainly on Saudi financial support and on Pakistani mercenaries. But if Salami’s prediction that “the people of Bahrain will get their wish” was meant to signal that Iranian intervention could be expected, then a real war, between Iranian soldiers supported by the local Shi’a population of Bahrain and the Sunni ruler with his Pakistani Sunni troops, could erupt.
Bahrain is geopolitically important. It is connected by a 16-mile causeway to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, where almost all of that country’s Shi’a are to be found. Shi’a are 10% of the total Saudi population, but 33% of the population in the Eastern Province. And, also important, almost all the Saudi oil comes from that Eastern Province. The Shi’a in that province have long been oppressed by the Wahhabis, discriminated against in education, in employment, in the religious practices they are permitted to publicly engage in. In every area of Saudi life, there is a glass ceiling for the Shi’a. And most disturbing of all for them, according to Freedom House, is that Saudi textbooks “promote an ideology of hatred toward people, including Muslims, who do not subscribe to the Wahhabi sect of Islam,” with Shi’a Muslims presented as not real Muslims at all. It was the Shi’a cleric Nimr al-Nimr who in 2009 suggested that the Eastern Province should secede if the Saudi government did not cease to oppress and discriminate against its Shi’a. Taking no chances, the Saudi government executed Nimr al-Nimr in January 2016. Were Iranian forces, their appetites whetted by the part they played in the victory in Syria, to land on Bahrain for a similar “conquest” which, with Iran just across the Gulf, would not be impossible logistically, Saudi anxiety would go sky-high, not just at the loss of Bahrain itself, but also from the fear that a takeover of Bahrain by Iranian troops would embolden the Saudi Shi’a. Riots, or even an open revolt, by the Shi’a in the oil-rich Eastern Province, is always a worry, or rather, is the Saudis’ worst nightmare.
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