Iran’s sophisticated interventions in Bahrain

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Iran’s sophisticated interventions in Bahrain

The Iranian regime’s meddlesome footprints are ubiquitous in the region, including in Bahrain, and the latest developments indicate that Tehran is intensifying its efforts to intervene more extensively in the Gulf state’s sociopolitical system.
Four decades of experience have made the Iranian regime skilled at employing a multi-dimensional strategy to influence and intervene in other nations’ domestic politics. When it comes to Bahrain, Iranian leaders are increasingly targeting the country on three fronts simultaneously. 
On the economic front, the Iranian regime attempts to chart illicit paths by exploiting Bahrain’s financial system. For example, most recently, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa pointed out that the government had detected the Iranian-linked Future Bank was operating a covert corruption scheme in Bahrain. Such a multibillion-dollar operation could have severe repercussions.
The Iranian regime probably uses such illegal financial activities to skirt sanctions, as well as sponsor terrorism, proxies, lobbyists and spies in other countries. This assists the Iranian leaders in employing sophisticated methods such as wire-stripping in order to avoid leaving any tracks behind, as well as concealing where payments and transfers have originated from or been deposited to. It was recently revealed that Iran’s Bank Melli instructed Future Bank officials on what specifically not to do when routing money through the US. 
On the political front, Iran utilizes both soft and hard power. Tehran promotes the narratives of those individuals or groups that aggressively oppose the Bahraini government. 
In addition, militarily speaking, the Iranian regime is increasingly supporting belligerent militant groups with weapons, organizational skills, intelligence and training. Most recently, Bahraini security forces arrested more than 100 people on charges of terrorism and plotting attacks on government officials. Bahrain accused them of being part of a network that was founded by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. This was not the first time Iran has been caught supporting terror cells in Bahrain. In the last two years, Bahraini officials have detected or dismantled several Iran-backed groups that were planning, or had already carried out, attacks in the island kingdom.

The West ought to more robustly support Bahrain in its efforts to counter Iran’s meddling and violation of international laws.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

The regime is using the same ideological and religious modus operandi it employed in Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon. Iranian leaders are attempting to exploit Bahrain’s Shiite population and religious leaders in an effort to control Manama. From Tehran’s perspective, this would help it to strengthen the Shiite axis and tip the regional balance of power against the Sunnis and Gulf states. 
Some Iranian officials and IRGC commanders even believethat Bahrain ought to be one of Iran’s provinces. It is therefore not unrealistic to argue that Tehran would ideally desire to set up a Shiite theocracy in Bahrain similar to Iran’s clerical establishment. But, if this turns out to be too far-fetched for Tehran, the Iranian regime would be satisfied with turning Manama into a Beirut, Baghdad or Sanaa, where it can exert more influence. 
These developments should not only be alarming to Manama, but also to the US, as its Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain. Iran is attempting to scuttle the mission of Washington’s Fifth Fleet and the objectives of US foreign policy in countering Tehran’s militaristic activities, confronting the regime’s naval provocations, and ensuring stability, peace and security in the Gulf. By trying to destabilize Bahrain, empowering the Iran-backed militias and terrorist groups, targeting the US Navy, making the country unstable, and raising the US Navy’s costs and expenses, the Iranian regime is trying to pressure the US into withdrawing its Fifth Fleet.
When it comes to counterterrorism strategies and operations, Bahrain has been increasingly successful at detecting and dismantling Iranian-backed cells. Nevertheless, it should be taken into account that Iran’s agenda in trying to dominate Bahrain is anchored in an extensive long-term plan. The US and its European allies ought to more robustly support Bahrain in its efforts to counter Iran’s meddling and violation of international laws. The military, economic and geopolitical assistance of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) also plays a crucial role in confronting Tehran’s aggressive behavior.
 
  • Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh
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