Bahrain and Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Iran on Monday, escalating a standoff that the Saudis triggered on Saturday when they executed 47 prisoners.
Among the executed was Nimr al-Nimr, a Shia cleric critical of the monarchy.
Outraged Iranians stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran later that day.
Saudi Arabia has given Iranian diplomats 48 hours to leave the country. Neighboring Bahrain, which has a majority Shia population but is ruled by a Sunni family, has followed suit and accused Iran of “increasing, flagrant and dangerous meddling” in the internal affairs of the Gulf states.
Britain is due to set up its first permanent military base in the Middle East in four decades, ministers announced on Friday. Under an agreement with the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain, facilities at Mina Salman will be expanded to accommodate aircraft carriers, destroyers and frigates.
Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday they were withdrawing their ambassadors from nearby Qatar in what was the first public admission of major differences between the Gulf Cooperation Council states.
In a statement, the three monarchies said Qatar had failed to honor an agreement not to interfere in the affairs of its neighbors. But the real reason for the diplomatic pullout seems to be Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that Saudi Arabia and its allies abhor.
Since the beginning of the “Arab Spring” uprisings in late 2010, Qatar has supported Islamist revolutionary causes in Egypt and Syria and provided hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian affiliate, Hamas. It also hosts the movement’s spiritual leader, Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
Saudi Arabia’s own puritanical strain of Islam, Wahhabism, is at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood’s advocacy of political Islam. The organization also favors republicanism and is populist, unlike Saudi Arabia, a monarchy and authoritarian.
Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt suffered a blow last July when President Mohamed Morsi was deposed by the army. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates rushed in with billions of dollars in aid for the interim government that succeeded his.
Around that time, Saudi Arabia also assumed a leadership role in coordinating Arab support for the uprising against Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. Whereas Saudi Arabia had concentrated its efforts in the south of the country, near the border with Jordan, and allowed a Qatari sphere of influence in the north, near Turkey, the growing prominence of the Muslim Brotherhood in the opposition worried the kingdom which preferred to back less political Salafist.
Both Arab states have sectarian and strategic imperatives for supporting the Syrian uprising. Because Assad is the only Arab ally of their nemesis Iran, replacing his government with a majority Sunni regime would weaken the Shia axis in the Middle East and limit Iran’s retaliatory options in case there is an American or Israeli attack on its nuclear sites which Arab and Western nations suspect are part of a weapons program.
Despite reluctance on the part of Saudi Arabia’s ally the United States, which worries that religious fanatics in Syria might be no better than Assad, the kingdom has stepped up its support for more radical insurgents
The rift between Qatar and the other oil-producing states in the Persian Gulf further calls into question regional integration schemes which have made little progress in recent years.
The alliance, which also includes Kuwait and Oman, failed to agree to plans for a joint missile defense system, despite American support. A Saudi proposal for deeper economic and political union stalled in 2012. Earlier, the United Arab Emirates had pulled out of a planned monetary union.
Arab Gulf states on Monday delayed plans to deepen political cooperation between them, reflecting unease on the part of smaller nations in the six member Gulf Cooperation Council about handing more power to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia and its neighboring Arab Gulf kingdom of Bahrain had expected to announce plans for increased economic and security cooperation in a move that Riyadh hoped would have spurred political integration all of the Sunni monarchies on the peninsula. Read more “Gulf States Delay Plans for Closer Arabian Union”
Despite Western condemnation of President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown of dissent in Syria, the United Kingdom and the United States are turning a blind eye to the violence in Bahrain where the Sunni royal family is trying to crush a Shia revolt — with American and British weapons.
The United States have been formally allied to the Islamic island nation since 1991. In the aftermath of the First Gulf War, the countries signed an agreement of defense cooperation which was most recently renewed in 2002. Bahrain was declared a “major non-NATO ally” of the United States’ at the time, a designation that opened the gates for sales of sophisticated weapon systems. The Bahraini air force flies American F-16 fighter jets and Bell attack helicopters. Its navy operates a once American frigate.
The most visible sign of the American-Bahraini security relationship is the US Navy base in the northeast of the island which accommodates several thousand onshore personnel and some thirty warships which permanently patrol the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf. Read more “American, British Weapons Still Pour Into Bahrain”
American, Arab and European armed forces may be intensively focused on operations over Libya but something just as dramatic is unfolding on the other side of the Middle East. Although this conflict may not be as violent as the one currently underway in Libya, it is nevertheless highly significant for every country that has even a remote interest in the region.
The drama in question concerns the rebellion in the island kingdom of Bahrain, a small nation barely visible on a map but a geostrategic hub where the Arab world’s most fractious political and social fault lines converge: sectarianism, class, religion and age. Read more “Old Wounds in the Persian Gulf”
The civil unrest in Bahrain escalated this week as foreign troops rolled into the tiny Persian Gulf state to suppress the revolt. Neighboring Saudi Arabia deployed some 1,200 troops while the United Arab Emirates sent eight hundred. The intervention puts the kingdom at odds with the United States which has publicly endorsed Arabs’ calls for political reform.