Bahrain: U.S. Backs Saudi Military Intervention, Conflict With Iran
On March 14 Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Cooperation Council partner the United Arab Emirates deployed 1,000 troops, 500 security personnel and armored troop carriers across the 25-mile King Fahd Causeway to Bahrain to shore up their fellow monarchy after a month of protests against the Al Khalifa dynasty. The following day the Bahraini government declared a three-month state of emergency and authorized the military "to take necessary steps to restore national security." On March 16 government security forces staged a violent crackdown against protesters in the nation's capital with tanks, armored personnel carriers and helicopters, killing at least two people and injuring hundreds.
Two weeks earlier Egypt's Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper reported that the Saudi government had sent an estimated thirty tanks to Bahrain.
In the interim U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited Bahrain on March 11 and 12 and met with King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. The first is Commander-in-Chief and the second Deputy Supreme Commander of the Bahrain Defence Force. The Bahraini monarch underwent military training with the British Army at the now-defunct Mons Officer Cadet School and later attended the United States Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, graduating in 1973.
The Pentagon chief and former Central Intelligence Agency director was in the company of men who spoke his language.
Gates commented approvingly of his hosts:
"I am convinced they both are serious about real reform. I think that the concern now is that it's important that they have somebody to talk to, and that the opposition be willing to sit down with the government and carry this process forward." 
He praised the king's and prince's "willingness to engage with the opposition," lauding their efforts as "a model for the entire region" - the Middle East and North Africa. Bahrain lies directly across the Persian Gulf from Iran.
The Defense Secretary confirmed that there had been "much talk of Iran" between him and his royal interlocutors and added: "One of the issues under discussion with respect to Libya, obviously, is a no-fly zone....If we are directed to impose a no-fly zone, we have the resources to do it." 
On March 7 the foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council member states - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - called for imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, with Emirati Foreign Minister Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan emoting: "We appeal to the international community, especially the Security Council, to meet its historical responsibility to protect this dear people." A week after the above display of unconvincing solicitude, leading members of the organization sent troops to Bahrain to suppress protests against the hereditary autocracy.
Last September the Financial Times reported that the U.S. had struck deals to provide four members of the Gulf Cooperation Council - Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Oman - with $123 billion worth of arms in a dramatic move to confront Iran in the Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia accounts for over half the total, $67 billion for 84 F-15 jets, 70 Apache gunships, 72 Black Hawk helicopters, 36 light helicopters and thousands of laser-guided smart bombs, the largest weapons deal in U.S. history. Even before those transactions are finalized, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute documented last December that Washington accounted for 54 percent of arms sales to Persian Gulf states between 2005 and 2009 and France 21 percent.
Gates flew home to Washington on March 12 from the Bahraini capital of Manama, ending a trip that started in Afghanistan five days before, after which he went to U.S. Africa Command headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany where he officiated over the transfer of command from General William Ward to General Carter Ham, and to NATO Headquarters in Brussels where he engaged in two days of meetings with his 27 fellow Alliance defense chiefs and those of another 20 nations providing troops for NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell stated of U.S. relations with allies in the Middle East region: "All of the...deep strategic interests we have with them remain the same as they were six months ago." 
That Saudi military forces entered Bahrain two days after Secretary Gates left would lead any sensible person to draw the conclusion that the Pentagon chief had discussed more than Iran and Libya with the kingdom's top two government and defense officials. Though discussions on Iran would not have been unrelated to those concerning a U.S.-backed deployment of Saudi and other Gulf Cooperation Council forces to Bahrain, as some 70-75 percent of Bahrain's population is Shi'a Muslim by way of confessional background although the ruling family is Sunni.
A Bahraini protester quoted by Reuters on March 15 commented on the Saudi-led military incursion this way: "It's part of a regional plan and they're fighting on our (land). If the Americans were men they would go and fight Iran directly but not in our country."
The U.S. Fifth Fleet, one of six used by Washington to patrol the world's seas and oceans, is headquartered near Manama, where between 4,000-6,000 American military personnel are stationed. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, U.S. military partners but not hosts of American bases, Bahrain is vital to U.S. international military and energy strategy, and allowing a doctrinal affinity to in any manner augment Iran's influence in its Persian Gulf neighbor is anathema to the White House, State Department and Pentagon.
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