An Israeli researcher with diplomatic and political experience warned of the possibility of repeating the scenario of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in Bahrain and what he claimed was “Iran’s ambitions” in the Gulf state.
Dore Gold, the former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and head of the Jerusalem Institute for Public Affairs and Politics, says that the visit of Bahrain’s deputy foreign minister and head of the Derasat Institute in his country, Sheikh Abdullah bin Ahmed Al Khalifa to Israel, introduced the Israelis to Bahrain.
“Some may be surprised why Bahrain in particular? Why does the West care so much about it? Bahrain indeed joined the UAE in the normalization agreements with Israel under cover of the Abraham Accords a year ago. Still, in addition to this, it has some characteristics that transform it from a strategic point of view into one of the most important countries today in the Gulf region, in light of regional tensions, especially in the face of a common threat of Iran.
Gold believes that, on the one hand, Bahrain has always been a target of Iranian expansion, threatening Israel. He notes that the editor-in-chief of Kayhan newspaper, who serves as an official mouthpiece for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, wrote in 2007: “Bahrain is part of Iranian territory.”
Gold also says that Ali Akbar Nouri, an adviser to Khamenei, who ran for president in Iran in 1997, described Bahrain as the 14th province of Iran—considering that this is reminiscent of the speech of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 1990 when he described Kuwait as the 19th province of Iraq while his forces were invading and occupying its lands.
Gold claimed that there is another threat related to the Iranian desire to expand, which is establishing a branch of Hezbollah in Bahrain, noting that about 70% of the population of Bahrain are Shiite Muslims.
The Israeli researcher adds: “The Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards recruited hostile elements from this population to carry out operations against the royal family.
In 2018, about 169 people in Bahrain were accused of setting up the Bahraini Hezbollah. On the other hand, the US Navy provided a defence umbrella for the state.
In 1995, the United States formed the Fifth Fleet and placed its command in the Bahraini capital, Manama. This fleet was responsible for all US naval forces in the Gulf region and the Indian Ocean.
He also says that when Bahrain seems necessary today, not only for US military operations in the Gulf but also in the Horn of Africa, there are political voices in the United States calling for the removal of American bases from there.
Gold continues: “After the United States permanently withdraws from Afghanistan and reduces its forces in Iraq, this will have important regional repercussions. Withdrawing from the naval base in Bahrain will further destabilize the Gulf, and such a step will also be considered a gift to Iran and Hezbollah, and will greatly affect Israel as well.”
Gold notes that when the Iran nuclear deal was concluded in 2015, many sources in the United States claimed that the agreement marked the beginning of a new era of “Iranian moderation.”
He considered that what happened was the exact opposite. Research published this year by the Tony Blair Institute in London stated, “The assumption of Iranian moderation was a lie. Indeed, the number of Iranian militias in the Middle East has increased. The lifting of sanctions in 2015 on Iran allowed it to obtain the funds needed to spread terrorism in the Middle East: Bahrain and Israel have to confront.
Gold explains that Deputy Minister Al Khalifa stressed in his speech during his visit to Israel that, as happened in 2015, any nuclear agreement based on the same assumptions would pose a danger to the entire region. In his opinion, international adherence to Bahrain is not based on military considerations only, but also involves much broader interests: In recent years, Bahrain has turned into a centre of religious moderation in the Middle East, a new synagogue was established there, and the Indian president opened an Indian temple in 2019.
In conclusion, Gould believes that the conflict over Bahrain is a landmark in the Middle East, where extremism is battling with political moderation.
It is noteworthy that while Israel is officially silent, many Israeli researchers and analysts continue to express their concern about the defeat of the United States in Afghanistan and its continued withdrawal from the Middle East.