This week saw a milestone in Persian Gulf history. Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa assented to Saudi King Abdullah's decision to assume the management of the island's defense, foreign affairs, finance and internal security policies.
This is disclosed by DEBKA-Net-Weekly's exclusive military and intelligence sources in the Gulf.
No public statement was issued in either Riyadh or Manama. But our sources report that the pact is already in execution: Bahrain will become the 14th Saudi province. Whereas 13 provinces are governed by Saudi royal princes, Bahrain will continue to be ruled by the Al Khalifas, whose head will enjoy the same privileged status as Saudi royals.
In private conversations with his princes, King Abdullah confided this week that the Bahrain takeover was essential for defending the oil kingdom against an outside threat. He did not say so, but it was clear he was referring to Iran. He also stressed the need for Riyadh to take advantage of the opportunity presented by all Arab eyes fixed on the sound and fury around Libya for making a smooth move without stirring too much opposition.
Monday, the Bahraini King used the same language as King Abdullah when he said his nation had foiled an "external plot" to undermine security and stability in his tiny Gulf kingdom. He thanked Saudi forces for quelling the Shiite-led disturbances.
Saudi fleet to be transferred from Gulf of Oman to Bahrain
Monday March 21, the Saudis began adapting their military deployment in Bahrain to its permanent mission. Whereas on March 14, Saudi troops were invited to enter the tiny kingdom by its king to guard his palace and strategic facilities against violent, Shiite-led protests, by this week, those troops were realigned in defensive array against external attack along the island's borders.
All week long, Saudis reinforcements poured into Bahrain including armored contingents and a variety of missile units.
The most significant Saudi step, according to our military sources, is the planned transfer of its fleet units from the Gulf of Oman and the Red Sea to the military section of Bahrain port, where too the US Fifth Fleet has its headquarters and berths its ships.
The two kings agreed to get construction on a large Saudi base there started very soon. It will be the Saudi Navy and Marine forces' main forward command center in the Persian Gulf region – primarily Riyadh's answer to the expansion of Iranian Revolutionary Guards fleet and marine headquarters in the northern Gulf.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources report that some of the US Fifth Fleet piers and facilities will be made available to the Saudi navy. They were emptied when the Bahrain unrest erupted in late February and the vessels transferred to Oman.
Some US Fifth Fleet facilities to pass to Saudis
Notwithstanding the bad blood between King Abdullah and President Barack Obama over the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the two rulers have spoken several times in the past two weeks.
Military sources in Washington and the Gulf confirm that they were coordinated on Saudi military steps in Bahrain.
Obama's proviso was that they must be carried out with the Bahraini king's consent. He also tried to persuade King Abdullah to reciprocate by providing much needed Arab support for the Western coalition offensive against his old enemy, Libya's Col. Muammar Qaddafi.
For seven years, the Saudi and Libyan rulers have been at daggers drawn, ever since Qaddafi was accused in 2004 of complicity in an assassination plot against Abdullah when he was still Crown Prince.
The Saudi King did not give Obama a clear yes or no about Libya. He only suggested he would consider a Saudi gesture which the coalition could present as a sign of support for its military operation against Qaddafi.
To further discuss Riyadh's possible assistance, Abdullah sent his foreign minister Prince Saud al Faisal to London on Tuesday March 22 to meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Cameron heard no concrete promises from the Saudi Prince, but he came away with the sense that Riyadh would soon come up with some diplomatic or military step related to the operation in Libya.
President Obama was optimistic enough to state Tuesday that Arab moves might be expected soon in support of the military operation against Qaddafi.
Saudi Foreign Minister collects world support for Bahraini move
However, the Saudi prince's diplomatic mission did not end at 10 Downing Street.
From London, Saud al-Faisal flew to Paris to meet President Nicolas Sarkozy and on to Moscow, where he arrived Thursday, March 24 for an appointment with President Dmitry Medvedev.
Our sources report that the Saudi foreign minister's tour aims to clarify the Saudi position on regional events and the efforts by some Arab governments to contain the situation in Bahrain before it spreads across the region.
He has been emphasizing the intelligence data in Saudi hands confirming an Iranian scheme to stir up trouble in the tiny kingdom in order to “create movements that match the plans of Tehran in the region”.
The royal message Al-Faisal carried to Moscow underlined the absolute rejection by Saudi Arabia and all other GCC members of this external interference in Bahraini affairs.
It also invited Russia "as a very important country" to play an active role in "containing tension in the region."
The Saudi prince, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Gulf sources, planned his tour to net the support of key world powers for Riyadh's moves on Bahrain in order to supplement the less than wholehearted endorsement from Washington.