Published in The Hill here
Reading between the lines (lions)
As members of Congress consider the $53 million arms sale to enable Bahrain to defend itself from outside threats in a region in which Iran is seeking to increase its influence, it is important to look at last week’s report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI). That report of almost 500 pages provided details of many things except in one area: the machinations of Iran during the February and March protests that rocked Bahrain.
No evidence was presented to the Commission to prove that Iran had a deliberate role in the protests, the BICI said. Thus, being objective as demanded by its charter, the BICI could not conclude any direct role.
By the time the first reports were made, the uncertain conclusion had morphed into NO role by Iran and that was the lead in most news accounts the day after the report was issued.
Now we have the expected snowball effect: since there is no evidence of an Iran move toward the Kingdom of Bahrain, the government should tell all GCC Peninsula Shield Forces who entered Bahrain to assist us to leave immediately. Or so goes the logic of those seeking to weaken our progress toward a united future.That logic sees the Peninsula Shield more like an occupying force. And since Iran’s threat, as they say, was nothing more than a fabricated myth, then the Peninsula Shield Forces have entered for no reason at all.
I say the whole chess game was played right in front of our eyes and barely any international audiences noticed it. They are not interested in reading between the lines to get the real story, one whose ending is still many chapters away. BICI Chairman Mahmoud Sharif Bassiouni himself is showing how to do that.
In an interview with Gulf News a day after the BICI report was issued, Bassiouni said that while the commission did not find evidence that Iran sent arms, money or troops, it did find that Iran engaged in “propagandistic activities” against the government.
And that is one way that Iran operates, by successfully creating something that I call psychological deterrence. By practicing psychological deterrence, Iran is able to meddle in and influence political decisions and outcomes around its neighborhood.
Here is how it works.
Imagine yourself inside a lion’s cage with a tranquilizer gun. You know that you are more powerful than the lion because of the tranquilizer at your disposal. However, what you legitimately fear is that before the tranquilizer takes effect you may already be a half-eaten platter. There are many unknowns in this life-or-death calculation, including knowing the strength of the sedative as well as the lion’s mass and its capability to remain awake while losing strength. This is how deterrence is created.
Likewise, it is vital to know if that lion is sane or a rogue. This factor would most definitely play a crucial role in influencing your decision on whether to shoot the animal with the tranquilizer.
By acting like a rogue nation, from arresting those who come close to its borders, to testing missiles, to naming Bahrain as the 14th province, to stating that, “We are watching events in Bahrain very closely,” Iran was attempting to mirror itself as the mysterious lion looking for its next meal.
When events took place in Bahrain, Iran was hoping for a change in the governance system that would serve its long-desired needs. Its work to undermine Bahrain was on two fronts: first, by instigating sectarianism and violence by dedicating media channels around the clock that exaggerated and fabricated the events, and flatly fabricating that Bahrainis from Shia background are oppressed by the American-friendly Al-Khalifa regime. And second, by creating the psychological deterrence that implied Iranian forces can invade and ‘save’ the oppressed people of Bahrain at any time.
At a minimum, the goal was to twist and pin back the arms of the Government of Bahrain, to keep it from enforcing the rule of law to end chaos on the streets.
Whether the Iranian threat was credible was not a gamble that the Government of Bahrain was willing to take. Whether Iran was a rogue lion or a mere cat was a significant unknown during February and March. The decision to invite the Peninsula Shield Forces to boost positions around vital installations in the south of Bahrain, away from the city, called Iran’s bluff.
Iran’s media campaign on Bahrain immediately switched toward calling for international assistance to the people of Bahrain against the invasion of Saudi Arabia.
While there are many uncertainties with regard to the future of the Peninsula Shield Forces in Bahrain, one thing is certain: GCC leaders annually meet to discuss political, social, economic, and military integration and the plan we all will follow. The GCC is proactive, not reactive.
These shared goals are from the bottom up and the leaders have achieved a lot. From the ease of travel, to building bridges, to a shared energy network and railroad tracks, GCC leaders are creating an integrated environment that is mutually beneficial to their countries and their people.
Through this unity, GCC deterrence was successfully transformed from paper to reality. And we know that our friends in the United States and especially in Congress see the unfriendly threats, not only to us, but to all the nations of the region.
Now the lion sleeps at night. Bahrain and the GCC have no intention of letting it wake up and devour.
Sheikh Saqer AlKhalifa is the Media Attache at the Bahrain Embassy to the United States, and a former officer in the Bahrain Army.
Categories: Published Elsewhere and Mentions
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