For Iran's Islamic rulers, Bahrain is not just a backyard but a lost territory which the Shah ceded in the 1970s. They therefore own a direct interest in regaining what they consider theirs.
Whereas the Sunni Palestinian Hamas was hired to help Tehran's grab for Egypt, for Bahrain, Iran has recruited its Lebanese Shiite proxy, Hizballah.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military and intelligence sources report that Hizballah political and military advisers spirited into the Sunni-ruled island of just 750 square kilometers are working alongside at least four of the six main opposition groups, including the biggest Shiite alliance al-Wefaq.
Hizballah advisers are especially close to Hassan Mashaima, the hardline Shiite Al-Haq party chief, who returned from self-imposed exile in London the last week of February to become the most prominent ringleader of the Bahraini Shiite revolt.
Tehran has assigned Hizballah three tasks for the small island kingdom:
1. To build military cells to execute the sabotage and assassination operations directed from Tehran.
2. To set up a popular paramilitary infrastructure, to be held ready for the right moment to seize Bahrain's strategic facilities, such as the port where the US Fifth Fleet command headquarters is located, oil refineries and key traffic arteries.
3. To create a Shiite skeleton government for replacing King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa in the event of a coup or Iranian military occupation of the island.
Americans kept abreast of Hizballah involvement in Bahrain
None of this is news to the Bahraini king or the United States government.
Ever since 2008, King Hamid has put the facts in front of every high-ranking American he met with, from Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen.
He gave them all detailed lists of Bahrainis trained by Hizballah in Lebanon and copies of the false passports Syrian military intelligence cooked up to allow them to move freely around the Middle East.
Last Saturday, March 12, when Gates arrived in Manama, he was presented with intelligence information on the work of Hizballah agents and evidence that the Shiite networks they had trained were pulling the wires behind the protest demonstrations in Bahrain. Those networks had been directed explicitly by their masters in Tehran and Beirut to topple the royal family, cut off the King Fahd Causeway – Bahrain's 25-kilometer lifeline link to Saudi Arabia – and proclaim Manama the capital of a new revolutionary Islamic republic.
This scenario was destined for execution the day after the US defense secretary's visit. He was told that the Shiite "protesters" directed by Hizballah had been ordered to seize control of Bahrain's financial district and shut it down Monday, the day after he left and place three zones under siege – the financial district, the port and the refineries area. On Tuesday they were to surround the Ar Rifa Ash Sharqi district where the palaces and royal family's private residences are located.
Gates tells Bahraini king "to exercise restraint"
Then, late Tuesday or early Wednesday, the networks would be told to open fire for the first time on Bahraini security forces.
The pro-democracy protest movement was clearly configured to morph into an armed Shiite uprising against the royal family of Bahrain.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources say Gates was also shown the plan Hizballah advisers had drawn up for dealing with Saudi military intervention: The Shiite networks were to launch a campaign of terror on Saudi and Bahraini forces alike and turn on key points like refineries, the port, police stations, army camps, electricity and water stations and main roads and bridges.
Defense Secretary Gates is described by our Gulf sources as unmoved by this information. He followed the Obama administration script to the letter, calling on the Bahraini royal rulers to exercise restraint against violent Shiite-led protesters and engage them in dialogue.
He ignored Hizballah's role in the unrest. As for Iran, Gates said: “I expressed the view that we had no evidence that suggested that Iran started any of these popular revolutions or demonstrations across the region. But there is clear evidence that as the process is protracted, particularly in Bahrain, the Iranians are looking for ways to exploit it and create problems,”
The offer he made to travel to Riyadh to try and chart a common course of action between Washington, Saudi King Abdullah and Manama was rejected out of hand by the Saudi and Bahraini monarchs.
Saudis pick up the Iranian gauntlet
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Persian Gulf sources report that this was the Saudi king's second rebuff of senior US officials. At the end of last week, the White House asked Abdullah to receive Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, after her visit to Cairo, together with Gates, who would be coming from Kabul.
A Saudi official said stiffly: "We are not willing to discuss with the administration the situation in Bahrain. We will act as we see fit."
Monday March 14, King Abdullah sent Saudi military contingents into Bahrain after learning that the Shiite networks were implementing the Hizballah plan that was shown to Gates. Riyadh cited 1,100 troops, whereas debkafile's sources disclosed that same night that two Saudi brigades of the National Guard and the Infantry Corps, as well as a tank battalion had been consigned to Bahrain – 3,500 troops in all.
Tuesday, after the Shiites shot live rounds for the first time, killing a Saudi officer by sniper fire (Riyadh at first confirmed and later denied that a Saudi officer was killed, claiming the victim was a Bahraini officer) – signaling the start of guerilla warfare against the invaders, Riyadh countered by topping up its expeditionary force in Bahrain with another tank battalion.
Riyadh's response to the Shiites was therefore a challenge to come out and fight – regardless of the American position.
Small Bahrain thus found itself at the epicenter of two fresh Middle East wars, both of which had erupted in the course of the Arab Revolt – one waged by Saudi Arabia against Iran and Hizballah, and the second, Sunnis versus Shiites in the Persian Gulf.
The party which was foisting the two wars on the region was Iran. And, for the first time, Saudi Arabia picked up the gauntlet that Tehran threw down.