Bahrain-Saudi Arabia union ‘meant to save US Navy base’
A possible move for political integration between Manama and Riyadh was announced on Monday, as Saudi Arabia hosted a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) meeting. Uniting just two nations of the six-strong bloc would be much easier than hammering out a union between all the Sunni-ruled monarchies.
For Bahrain, forming some sort of confederation with the strongest member of the GCC may become a solution for the ongoing political crisis. The country’s Shiite majority has been demanding constitutional reforms and an elected government since December 2011. GCC nations provided their troops to Bahrain to quell the uprising in its peak, but it did not simply go away.
GCC countries’ major regional rival Iran branded the move as an “American plan to annex Bahrain to Saudi Arabia,” and called on Iranian Shiites to take to the streets on Friday in protest against it.
Bahrain lashed out at Tehran for what was termed “Iranian interference in the affairs of the kingdom” by Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmad Al-Khalifa.
“What Iranians say is not paranoid or far-fetched at all. Bahrain itself is a US naval base. They could easily, if they so desired, have a democratic regime there. But the problem with allowing democracy is that a democratic government could then tell the US to get out. So it suits the United States to have this tiny little despotism and a larger despotism in Saudi Arabia,” Middle East expert Tariq Ali told RT.
The announcement of a potential union came just days after Washington renewed supplying arms to Bahrain, which was halted on October due to the violent crackdown of protests by Manama.
The move provoked criticism from human rights groups and some US politicians and Bahraini opposition.
Riyadh voiced the idea that GCC should go for a closer political, economic and military integration after three decades of existence back in December. The plan however has seen few steps forward, as the council’s members have a variety of considerations for such a move, ranging from the smaller members’ fear of losing their identity to religious differences between the Sunni regimes.
Oman, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates reportedly mounted the strongest objections to the union. Bahrain’s current enthusiasm for a bilateral alliance with Saudi Arabia is partially explained by the already great influence that Riyadh has over the troubled tiny island state. A formal union would largely seal the status quo. But the plan has its own flaws for Saudi Arabia, Ali says.
“What the Saudis don’t realize, because they are masters of the present moment, is that were they to incorporate Bahrain into a so-called confederation, effectively swallowing it up and making it into a puppet state, the large population of Bahrainis that they would inherit would undoubtedly link up with dissidents and people fed up with Saudi monarchy inside Saudi Arabia itself,” he explained.
Domestic turmoil may be something Saudi Arabia cannot afford at the moment, says Professor Seyed Mohammad Marandi, from the University of Tehran.
“The Saudi dictator is very old and there is a succession struggle. There are thousands of princes who want a bigger piece of the cake. So the Saudi regime is growing more and more unstable,” he told RT.
“The United States has typically used Saudi Arabia similar to the Roman Empire used gladiators – the Saudis have always funded the wars against other nations that the US has been interested in,” independent researcher and writer Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich told RT.
“What America is hoping to achieve is for the most fundamental, most radical elements of Islam to be left whilst more moderate regimes have been disbanded. This would give America and its partner Israel an excuse to wage a war against those fundamental regimes,” she said.