The “Who” and the “Why” of the Plotted New Year’s Eve Massacre in Bahrain

Editor's desk

Mitchell Belfer

The “Who” and the “Why” of the Plotted New Year’s Eve Massacre in Bahrain

Through the combination of solid intelligence and good luck, Bahrain’s security services prevented a New Year’s massacre and disrupted a human and arms smuggling network that ferried known criminals out of, and weapons into, the island country. The 28 and 29 December operations have, by now, been made public and adequate evidence has been provided which clearly demonstrates that: first, the weapons caches seized in both the al Qurrayah warehouse and on-board the fast-boat near the village of Karranah were exclusively of Iranian and Syrian origin; second, that a Bahraini living in Iraq facilitated the sea-borne arms shipment; third, the human smuggling ring that transported criminals out of Bahrain, was destined for Iran; and finally, the car bomb in Hoora was operational for maximum damage in ‘a matter of days,’ re: for New Year’s. It is clear that New Year’s would not see the eruption of a full scale insurrection. The weapons cache in al Qurrayah seemed to be packaged for distribution rather than active use. What the police operations uncovered was the long-term mission of arming, and keeping armed, small cells of fighters and maintaining an Arabian Gulf sea-lane for people smuggling to and from Iran.

These are the facts. Motives and intentions, on the other hand, are much more elusive and a degree of guesswork is needed to figure out the “who” and the “why.” Of course, there are many in the international media together with a special cult of “experts” that assess Bahrain from their armchairs – having never been to the country or left when they were far too young to understand political life – who will shrug-off the car bomb and dismiss the smuggling operations. They will blame Bahrain’s government and suggest that arms smuggling and car bombs are synonymous with peaceful demonstrations and political marches.

Such people, and the false images they promote, distort the realities facing Bahrain. There is an unfolding struggle to dominate the country by external actors. Iran seeks to overthrow the al Khalifa monarchy and impose a theocracy. Its goal of doing so has not changed since its first attempt in 1981. The only thing that has changed is the regional balance of power which now favours the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), to which Bahrain belongs. So, Iran changed tactics not objectives. It moved to strengthen its proxies and asymmetrical power so as to evade regular manoeuvres; it does not have the fortitude or competence to compete in a symmetrical conflict.

That answers the “who.” It is Iran and its theocratic leadership that bears ultimate responsibility for instability in Bahrain. The al Quds force trains terrorists and deploys them abroad; to Bahrain, Syria, Palestine, Israel, Yemen, Lebanon, Libya and throughout Europe (notably Germany) and the al Quds Force is answerable only to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps which itself is not answerable to Rowhani, but to Ayatollah Khamenei. While some may see Rowhani as the rehabilitating face of the Islamic Republic, it should be remembered that negotiations are intended to stave-off the Iranian acquisition of nuclear arms, not transform it into a normal state with a functioning civil society and Rowhani has very limited influence in Iran’s politico-military hierarchy. Even if the nuclear deal is penned, Iran will remain a threat to the region and this week’s security operations in Bahrain are a reminder of that fact.

The question then is why? Why would Iran undertake such operations now? After all, the Islamic Republic seems to be on an unstoppable winning streak. It has successfully duped the international community into believing that it would abandon its nuclear arms programme – the very programme it always denied having – has been strengthening its position in Syria via its support to al Assad and in Iraq via al Malaki. At the same time, Iran has begun to mass-produce its own conventional arms and will be able to rebalance the GCC in the coming years and it is now being courted in the West since Rowhani began talking to the US. All in all, 2013 was a good year for Iran.

It is precisely because of its 2013 successes that Iran is increasing the stakes in Bahrain; one of its foremost objectives in its wider goal to control the Arabian Sea and ‘everything within it.’ With this in mind, there seems to be three sub-reasons for Iran’s current manipulation of risk in Bahrain. First, last week, Ali Salman of the al Wefaq bloc was arrested. As a result, Iran lost one its main spokespeople in Bahrain. So, the Hoora car bombs were likely in retaliation for the arrest of Ali Salman. Second, since Iran and Saudi Arabia are locked in a region-wide struggle and the latter is the only local power capable of deterring the former, and since Saudi revellers travel en mass to Bahrain to partake in New Year’s celebrations, it may be that Iran sought to target Saudis in Bahrain. Finally, sensing US weakness in the region, Iran has been strengthening its hand to dispatch local terrorist cells to attack US targets and interest in Bahrain. Perhaps the Hoora car bombs were intended for the US 5th Fleet Base at al Juffair and the arms caches for use against US and Bahraini security forces as security is stepped up following such an attack?

While this is all speculative, one thing must be taken for granted: Bahrain is locked in an existential struggle for survival and should be judged according to how it has managed to persevere against the odds stacked against it rather than more whimsical notions of universal goods that seem only to apply to the strong! 2013 saw the use of chemical weapons in Syria and the 100,000th casualty in that country’s civil war. 2014 seems poised to see the spill-over of Syria throughout the region and the victors of that conflict will shape regional political life for the decades to come. So, it is time to ask whether it is better to support Troy or the horse at its gate.

2017 - Volume 11, Issue 2