Bahrain has lifted its state of emergency, but the Gulf States continue to be obsessed with Iran, particularly as investigations have proven the Iranians have a strong hand in Syria, and likewise Bahrain. In Bahrain, features of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) strategy have become clear. When the GCC deems an uprising to be legitimate in any of the Arab Peninsula states, whether in Bahrain, Oman or Yemen, it does not immediately mobilize its security apparatus. We saw evidence of this in Yemen, where the GCC proposed initiatives to the Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in order to transfer power in a manner that would ward off a civil war. When the unrest began in Bahrain, the GCC’s Foreign Ministers initially met in Manama, and spoke of the need for political reform and the initiation of a national dialogue. At that time, the Bahraini leadership was tense and pressurized into extensively engaging in national dialogue (which was later on terminated by one of the opposition parties). Then the GCC states met once again and presented a financial aid package of US $10 billion to Bahrain, and a similar amount to Oman.
The demonstrators did not stop, but rather their momentum increased. It is widely known that the Gulf States are engaged in free trade, and are keeping a watchful eye on the stock exchange rates. Thus, when the Bahraini and Gulf populace noticed that the stock exchange in Bahrain was beginning to decline, and subsequently reached a standstill, they realized that matters there were far more serious than a simple protest movement headed by Sunnis or Shiites. When the “Wifaq” movement withdrew [from the Bahraini parliament], independent MPs tilted the vote towards declaring a state of emergency, because the economic issue was a matter of urgency. Thus, the GCC interfered in a military fashion.
Explaining the role of the GCC, the Head of the Kuwait Center for Strategic Studies and GCC advisor Dr. Sami al-Faraj says “Starting with Kuwait, this state did not want to witness any conflict, and so it chose to undertake the protection of Bahrain’s strategic center; the seaport.” Basically, Kuwait called on Bahrain to engage in dialogue and reconciliation as the Kuwaitis had done previously, whereby basic requirements were put in place to ensure peaceful coexistence and political representation. For example, Shiite representation in the Kuwaiti parliament increased from 4 percent to 10 percent, and now Shiite MPs accurately reflect their composition of society. Yet when Bahrain refused peaceful solutions, and declined to receive the Kuwaiti delegation, Kuwait, as a state, was in a position where it had to implement the GCC’s Defense Pact. Kuwait was also the first to demand the implementation of the pact in 1990, when Iraq invaded its territory.
As for the role performed by the UAE, Dr. al-Faraj says that it aimed to support the Bahraini troops (500 soldiers) enlisted to domestic security. As a result, Bahrain was able to redeploy its security troops who had been undertaking clerical and administrative duties, replacing them with Emirati ones.
The Qataris were responsible for sending reconnaissance officers and observers to Bahrain. The Saudi role was a purely security-based one, as it tried to avoid clashing with demonstrators, which was impossible in some cases. Dr. al-Faraj stressed that we must remember that Saudi Arabia’s interests are different to that of the other three countries, because Bahrain is close to the Saudi Eastern Province, and Saudi Arabia fears that the unrest could spread over the border.
Dr. al-Faraj elaborated by saying that “Speaking of Bahrain is different from speaking of, for example, Tunisia. Bahrain is located very close to Ras al-Tannoura, the world’s largest oil-exporting seaport, with a capacity to produce 13 million barrels per day, something that makes Saudi Arabia highly cautious.”
He went on to say “if we looked at Bahrain from the Saudi coast, we would see our Shiite brothers in the Eastern Province, who all work in the oil sector. If we put Bahrain in the middle, there is Raas Tanoura to the right, and the large industrial city of Jabal to the left. A one-hour drive would take us to al-Salfanya, the world’s largest offshore field, and a further hour drive would take us to Kuwait, where we would find Burkan onshore field, the world’s largest oil field.”
“Directly from Bahrain, we can access the large onshore oil field of al-Aghwar in Saudi Arabia. If we were in Bahrain and we looked across to the Saudi shore, we would find al-Sufanya to the left, and then Kuwait and its exporting harbors which yield 3 billion US dollars [in annual revenues]. Heading north from Bahrain, apart from Ras Tanoura seaport, we would find Qatar’s liquefied gas-exporting harbor, the world’s second largest after Russia’s.”
Following this explanation, we can see that the issue here was not one of popular protests, but rather Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States were protecting their interests. These interests do not lie only in protecting their strategic centers, but also in protecting their responsibilities; including the contracts according to which they provide other countries with oil, contracts which they must act to protect. These are strategic obligations, including commitments to China, a nuclear state and a Security Council member, commitments to India, a giant nuclear state, commitments to Japan, the world second biggest economy, and commitments to Pakistan.
So how does Iran have an impact on all this? Dr. al-Faraj explains “When the Gulf States sign contracts, and the situation changes and instability prevails in the region, the value of insurance policies increase. Who should bear this cost? It is us, of course. It is true that we have exports and earn profits, but [it is our responsibility] when these profits shrink.”
Iran’s way of thinking is, and always has been: “I am losing, so others will lose to.” For example, when the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein bombarded the “Khirj” island in 1986, Iran’s major oil-exporting harbor, the Iranians reacted by shelling Kuwaiti and Saudi oil tankers, initiating the crisis of the oil tankers’ war.
Moving on from losses to obligations; the Gulf risks losing influence in the outside world [as a result of domestic unrest]. Customers may seek more stable locations in Africa, Mexico, Latin America, or Libya, of course after it restores its stability. There is also Algeria, which continues to export oil, Nigeria and West Africa. Thus the Gulf could lose clients who may not return.
Dr. al-Faraj says “If we are truly performing our role, then we should protect our clients, and protect ourselves against increasing burdens.
Drawing an example from another angle, Libya used to produce 1.6 million barrels of oil per day. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was storing oil, as he did not want to sell the surplus – Libyan oil is more expensive and refined, and Eastern Europe relies on it. However, after problems began to emerge, production was reduced to 700,000 barrels per day, and heated discussions began between concerned countries. Then questions arose: Should NATO interfere, or should there be a no-fly zone? The US stood against all of these measures. France, together with Britain, continued to mount pressure, and the US continued to refuse. Then Libya’s daily production rate decreased to only 300,000 barrels, and still the US did not move a muscle. Finally, when production decreased to zero, the US voted for Security Council Resolution No. 1973.
Dr. al-Faraj said “my belief is that if the same scenario was repeated in the Gulf, not only would NATO troops step in, but with them China, India, and every state east of the Gulf!” He added “What I want to say that others may be resentful of the measures taken by the Gulf when interfering in Bahrain. We were confused too, for we are not military states, we rely only on our financial, economic and diplomatic potential. Yet we were forced [into military action], fearing that the situation may be aggravated further, and then international interference would be imposed (on grounds of those in the West saying: you in the Gulf cannot interfere, but we can). If 1.6 million barrels per day caused an international resolution with military intervention, then what about the millions of barrels [that are produced in the Gulf]? Abu-Dhabi alone produces 3 million barrels per day, Kuwait 3 million, and Saudi Arabia 13 million.”
When we speak of the Gulf oil, we are talking about the world’s life artery. As for Bahrain, intervention has restored stability in the stock exchange, and thus the GCC has showed its intention to protect itself.