While the three major naval exercises to be completed by the end of this year in the Arabian Gulf are meant to ensure maritime safety, they have to be seen in the context of the threats that Iran poses to not only the maritime oil trade but to the Arab countries facing its seaboard as well.
The exercises – named Falcon Defender, Falcon Warrior and Falcon Response – involve Bahraini, Saudi and American naval ships and the National Crisis Emergency Management Authority of the United Arab Emirates. The idea is to protect oil platforms and aircraft carriers, perform counter-piracy and search-and-rescue operations and ensure safety at sea. In all some 200 naval personnel are involved besides the staff looking after planning and coordination.
While the coordinated operation keeps an eye on the high seas, the Iranian threats to Bahrain put a different shade on how the tiny island nation tackles the menace. Every year, while the government celebrates the anniversary of the National Action Charter on February 14, the anti-government groups tend to mark it as the Day of Rage. This year, as a prelude to that, there was a bomb blast on February 12 night. The blast, in the Sitra area of Bahrain claimed no casualties. It was aimed at a police patrol.
In fact, just days ago, the Gulf European Centre for Human Rights issued an alert about a possible terrorist attack on Bahrain citing brazen calls made by Iran to destabilize the Kingdom during the February 14 celebrations. “Iranian-backed terrorist groups in Bahrain have spread [these] calls inciting violence and terrorism … Radical and terrorist groups with fake names have made these calls,” the local DT News quoted the rights centre as saying, adding that some of these groups were based in Iran, apart from Lebanon and the UK.
It further quoted the statement as saying that the groups called upon Bahrainis to use weapons such as Molotov cocktails, grenades and Kalashnikov rifles against security forces. The paper even claimed to have obtained online one of the posters calling for violence, issued by banned groups including Al Ashtar Brigades which had killed an off-duty police officer.
On another front, the 31-nation Combined Maritime Force [which includes Bahrain], in the region claimed that last year it had seized in international waters an arms cache. the cache included 4,000 small arms, 100 rocket-propelled grenades, 49 machine guns, 20 mortar tubes and nine anti-tank missiles. Separately, Iran threatened to stage a coup in Bahrain when the spiritual leader of the anti-government elements had his citizenship revoked for preaching violence and money-laundering.
With all the six countries facing Iran being close-knit under the umbrella of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and Iraq under the current dispensation having no history of interfering in their affairs, Iran remains the sole country in the region which, given its threats and pronouncements, would be keen on moving such a large cache, enough to arm a whole brigade.
The ‘Falcon’ series of exercises therefore comes none too soon and should be a clear warning to Iran and to the masterminds of the troublemakers in Bahrain that their every move is being watched closely.