As the foreign policy establishment in the United State and abroad argue over the implications of President Trump’s decision to withdraw American forces from Syria, the focus has been on how the Iranian regime will take advantage of this sudden vacuum. While there is merit in keeping an eye on Tehran’s next moves in Syria, Washington’s attention should also be focused on America’s longtime ally in the region, Bahrain. Ensuring that Iran’s clerical regime does not become emboldened to undermine Bahrain must be a top priority of the Trump foreign policy team.
A fundamental tenet of the Islamic Republic’s foreign policy has been to export its ideology to the Muslim world. The theocratic regime’s constitution states: “The Constitution, having regard to the Islamic contents of the Iranian Revolution, which was a movement for the victory of all the oppressed over the arrogant, provides a basis for the continuation of that revolution both inside and outside the country.” In regards to Bahrain, the Iranian regime has used a patient, sophisticated multi-dimensional strategy to export its revolution for the sole purpose of overthrowing this pro-Western, secular monarchy.
On direct orders from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, the Iranian regime has used a number of approaches to either overturn this steadfast ally of the United States or at a minimum turn Bahrain into a vassal state much like they have done in Lebanon via their local proxy Hezbollah.
First, through its Al-Alam media network Tehran stokes sectarian divisions between Bahrain’s Sunni and Shia populations. The Shia narrative of “the meek” (Shia) versus the oppressors (Sunnis) is a feature of the Iranian regime’s propaganda.
Second, through its Revolutionary Guards, the regime supports militant groups in Bahrain with weapons, training and intelligence.
Third, the Iranian regime portrays dangerous ideologues such as Ayatollah Isa Ghassem as moderates.
Some in the American media portrayed the late Ayatollah Khomeini as a “moderate,” but when he came to power the result was fatwas to murder American servicemen around the world. And last but not least, Iran’s current supreme leader has called Bahrain a province of Iran. These proclamations by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are a direct threat to Bahrain’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The foundation of the U.S.-Bahrain partnership that the Iranian regime wants to destroy is based on humanitarian, military, economic and diplomatic ties. The American Mission Hospital was established in 1903 and has treated thousands of patients over its 115-year history. Bahrain is home to America’s Fifth Fleet, whose mission is to maintain the uninterrupted flow oil and gas to consumers around world.
Indeed, 30 percent of the world’s energy resources flow through the strategic waterways of the Persian Gulf. Not surprisingly, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs William Crowe described Bahrain as one of America’s most vital allies in the turbulent Middle East: “Pound of pound, man for man, the best ally of America anywhere in the world.”
In 2016 a new chapter in U.S.-Bahrain relations was opened when Amazon AWS announced that it was establishing its regional headquarters in Bahrain. The fact that the world’s most valuable company will build three huge data centers in Bahrain is a vote of confidence for this island nations’ transparent economic system. And on the diplomatic front, Bahrain has expressed its unwavering support for Mr. Trump’s decision to walk away from the flawed Obama Iran nuclear deal and welcomed ties to Israel. In fact, much to the annoyance of the ayatollahs in Iran, Bahrain has stated that as long as the clerical regime plays a destabilizing role in the region Israel has the right to defend itself.
Moving forward, the Trump administration, in cooperation with members of the U.S. Congress, would be well advised to consider the following steps in order to protect our friend and ally from falling prey to the Islamic regime in Tehran.
First, the White House should extend an invitation to the ruler of Bahrain, King Hamad Al-Khalifa, to visit Washington. During this visit Mr. Trump should make it very clear that the United States will not tolerate any interference by the mullahs of Iran in the internal affairs of Bahrain.
Second, Congress should hold hearings on the specifics of how the Iranian regime continues to undermine Bahrain. These hearings should be broadcast live into Iran via the Voice of America Persian language service so as to allow the people of Iran to see how their tormentors use Iran’s precious financial resources to undermine Bahrain.
Third, building on the success of Amazon’s entry into Bahrain, the Pentagon should encourage American startups whose innovative technologies have applications for the defense industry to establish a presence in Bahrain. Funding can be provided by both DARPA and Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund.
Mohammed Al-Sulami, the region’s foremost Iran expert, recently penned an opinion piece titled “Nature may abhor a vacuum but Iran loves one.” He is correct. As the United States grapples with the aftermath of Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria, we must keep an eye on Bahrain.