By: Colonel Ahmed Morsy, Egyptian Armed Forces, CSAG CCJ5
16 Nov 2021
Bahrain’s geographical location and geopolitical importance places the Kingdom in a prominent position. At times, Iran claims sovereignty over Bahrain and produces historical references to it. Bahrain was under Persian rule from 1602-1783, following an 80-year Portuguese occupation. In 1799, the House of Khalifa moved to Bahrain from Qatar, and they maintained a protectorate status to the British. After the 1960s, Britain withdrew its forces from the Gulf, and Iran renewed its claims of sovereignty over the island. However, a 1970 referendum allowed the people of Bahrain to decide between independence or joining Iran. They chose independence. The Iranian Shah ceased to raise the issue, but after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, Tehran put it on the agenda from time to time. Iranian officials continue to argue that until its independence, Bahrain was the 14th province of Iran and was even represented in Iran’s Majlis.2 These statements, which undermined Bahrain’s Arab identity, independence, and sovereignty, although rare, feed the Bahraini concerns about Iran’s continued subversion and repeated attempts to overthrow the monarchy.
Bahrain became a constitutional monarchy in 2002. The Bahraini society is characterized by its cultural, ethnic and religious diversity. Its demographic and religious structure includes Arab and Ajam who are Sunni and Shiite Muslims, as well as Christians and Jews. It is characterized by peaceful coexistence and community stability. Meanwhile, it is likely that Bahrain’ Shi’a ruled by a Sunni leadership constitute a natural target audience for Tehran. Previously, within the so-called Arab spring which heralded the rise of Islamist governments across the ME, Iran made several attempts to exacerbate divisions and fuel discontent in Bahrain.
- The Middle East (ME) is a complex environment, and the Abraham Accords have complicated this environment even further.
- Israel’s goals are consistent with most of the Gulf countries, including Bahrain.
- The main players in the Gulf region may believe that currently economic goals should prevail over political ambitions.
- Bahrain, despite its small geographic footprint, can be a key player in a Gulf-Sunni-Israeli alliance in the near future.
- A “pivot” away from the ME goes directly against the American national interest.
The Abraham Accords may need some stimulus so that its impetus does not wane over time.
The opinions and conclusions expressed herein are those of a number of international officers within the Combined Strategic Analysis Group (CSAG) and do not necessarily reflect the views of United States Central Command, not of the nations represented within the CSAG or any other governmental agency.