The Arab region’s most important annual event to discuss and analyse political developments affecting the area, hosted by the International Institute of Strategic Studies, concluded in Bahrain earlier this month with some important pointers emerging from the participants’ speeches and comments. Among the high-profile speakers and participants were British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, US Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al Sisi and the Saudi Foreign Minister.
While numerous pressing issues confront the Arab world at present ranging from the long-simmering Israeli-Palestinian disputes to the anarchy and chaos engulfing Libya, the main focus of the event was on the developments closer home – the Islamic State terror in Syria and Iraq and the sinister Iranian meddling in Yemen and Bahrain and the consequences thereof.
Even though Yemen had been swept by the waves of the Shiite Houthi rebels, armed and advised by Iran, running amok and terrorizing everyone in their way in the poor, mountainous, beautiful and sparsely-populated country, they were eventually subdued thanks to the combined forces of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE though the capital Sana’a is still to be evacuated. In the process the Yemeni ports had to be blockaded to avert the landing of Iranian arms shipments and India had to launch a massive operation to airlift its citizens [and in the process citizens of some other countries as well].
The chastised rebel Houthi leaders were eventually brought to the negotiating table through the Russian influence and the Manama Dialogue participants noted with satisfaction the resolution of the Yemeni problem within the coming months. Since the dialogue route is impossible when it comes to tackling the Islamic State terrorists, Russia had again stepped in – but this time militarily – to crush their might [albeit supporting President Assad’s forces] and at the Manama event there was also exchange of ideas and opinions on decimating the forces of menace.
The event also deliberated on the long-standing problem facing the Kingdom of Bahrain – Iran’s overt and covert support to the Shiite elements hostile to the country. For many years even before the 2011 troubles in Bahrain, Tehran had been offering support to anti-government groups in Bahrain but the trend became pronounced from the beginning of 2011.
Iran was further emboldened to offer advice, training, money and arms to the anti-government Shiite cadres in Bahrain once it signed the nuclear deal with the West, something that was dwelt upon by Bahrain Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa who said Iran was a bigger threat to the Gulf region than even the Islamic State rampaging across Iraq and Syria.
“We must put an end to Iran’s interference in the affairs of regional states. We must not underestimate the damage to regional stability caused by Iran’s actions in the region. If we are not serious enough about this, I’m afraid we will remain in a state of conflict indefinitely. Iran is at a crossroads, and it’s their choice where they can either choose to have a major shift in their foreign policy and move to phase two of fixing their relationships with the world after their nuclear deal and hopefully it will succeed,” Shaikh Khalid said.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir also called for keeping Iran’s conduct in the region in check.
“Instability in Iran means instability in the Gulf. The relationship is bad now because of Iran’s policies towards the Kingdom and its interference with Arab states,” he said.
While American and British delegates at the Manama Dialogue did offer to protect Bahrain’s interests, it must be remembered that they belong to the group of western nations who have had a decade-long stand-off with Iran and have come to terms with it in their own interests and would not like to go beyond a point to ruffle Iran’s feathers so soon after having resolved their own issues with it.
Moreover, it is common knowledge that despite the nuclear deal, the anti-American sentiment in Iran’s official as well as popular circles has hardly gone away, much less subsided. And browbeating Iran into toeing a particular line by either glowering at it or showing military might is something America would not be keen on, nor the UK.
In this scenario, one wonders therefore whether Russia, whose real-politik has worked in the case of both Yemen and Syria, will not be the best bet to ensure Iran desists from any activities hostile to the interests of Bahrain considering Moscow is a tried and tested long-term ally of the Tehran regime and its ties with Bahrain have also been warming up lately.