The Gulf Cooperation Council forces from Saudi Arabia and the UAE moved into Bahrain on March 14 to assist the country deal with the growing unrest. Termed the ‘Peninsula Shield Force’, the Saudi government confirmed that they had been called in by Bahrain to help, while the UAE stated they had sent 500 policemen. The opposition alliance in Bahrain has responded by claiming it to be an act of war against the “unarmed people of Bahrain”. Meanwhile, the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has reportedly expressed “deep concern”. To interpret the media perceptions emanating from the region, the interests and perspectives of US, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Israel, need to be looked at.
The statements emanating from the US official circles indicate that Saudi Arabia had not consulted with them before moving in to Bahrain, but at the same time, US declared it does not consider forces from Gulf countries entering Bahrain as an occupation force. Other mainstream American media sources have presented the GCC move as a joint US-Saudi manoeuvre to counter the growing clout of Iran in the region. And that Iran has few options to counter the US-Saudi move other than through covert means, and by creating problems in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On the other hand, Israeli media has projected the gap widening between US government and rulers of the Gulf countries, particularly after the US handling of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. According to this interpretation, King Abdullah and other Gulf rulers no longer trust the Americans and are acting on their own. Israeli media has also highlighted with concern any sign’s of rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Furthermore, according to Israeli assessment, Iran will not take the Saudi move lying down and is bound to react. The country is also paying increased emphasis on Iranian and Syrian cooperation in the Middle East and Syrian supplying arms to Qaddafi to crush the rebels. Additionally, according to media reports on March 16, Israel intercepted a vessel carrying Iranian weapons meant for Gaza. Israel is also closely monitoring the Egyptian Army after Hosni Mubarak, and to see if continues to be steadfast in patrolling the border with Gaza.
GCC and Saudi Perspective
From the perspective of Gulf countries, as the disturbances grow in many countries of the region, it is only a matter of time before questions are raised about Libyan style interventions in their backyards. Although the Arab League and Gulf countries have supported the argument of employing no-fly zone over Libya, it’s largely due to their contempt for Qaddafi. The Gulf leaders recognize that Libya can also become a model and a precedent for foreign involvement in other gulf countries, where due to the region’s oil reserves, stakes are higher for global powers.
On the other hand, Iran has in the past stayed away from directly blaming the Arab leaders and has instead blamed US and Israeli efforts to divide the Muslims. Iran has also given an Islamic colour to the unfolding unrest in the Middle East.
An Iranian Foreign Ministry official commenting on the GCC intervention in Bahrain stated:
“The U.S. support for military intervention is in clear contradiction with international regulations and the United Nations Charter. So, the Islamic Republic holds the United States responsible for dangerous consequences of such illegal attitude.”