February 17, 2013

Amid Peace Talks, Bahrain's Monarchy Cries Iran

The Bahraini monarchy's second attempt at a poorly-named "National Dialogue" has become inevitably obscured by the haze of asymmetric warfare. Given the common theory that King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa's regime is provoking Bahrain's opposition to justify harsh retaliation - whether jailing its leadership or shooting its youth - one must speculate on the timing between political negotiations and the February 14th anniversary. The monarchy clearly anticipated demonstrations on this day and has worked diligently to exploit their fallout in its favor.

Restarting the National Dialogue after its first government-induced collapse accomplishes multiple objectives at once: the opposition's actions in the streets are subverted by diplomatic outreach and ultimately held responsible for any failures at the negotiating table.

Days of running battles between protesters and security forces have also presented an opportune time to announce Bahrain's latest "terrorist cell" and bomb plot, courtesy of Iran's shadow. After highlighting the government's own casualties and the vicious actions of "saboteurs," meaning rock and Molotov-throwing youth protesters, Minister of Interior Lt-General Shaikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa informed a televised audience that a 2-kg bomb had been defused at the King Fahd Causeway. Five men linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guard already stand accused of receiving training in a camp along the Syrian-Lebanese, and allegedly admitted (during interrogation) that they planned to start a terrorist organization in Bahrain.

Accordingly, Al-Khalifa confirmed the arrest of eight individuals with "links to Iran, Iraq and Lebanon," where they received weapons and explosives training similar to the previous cells.

The possibility that Iran and its proxies are operating through Bahrain is high, but they are equally unlikely to cooperate with the island's opposition. These actors are pursuing their own ends rather than the democratic opposition's cause of political representation, and in doing have been conveniently shackled to the youth and Al Wefaq. The Iranian specter undermines Bahrain's opposition too efficiently for anyone other than the Bahraini monarchy's enjoyment - combined with Saudi backing and America's Fifth Fleet, Iranian-funded terror cells and bombs form the trump cards in its arsenal. Now, instead of covering the disproportionate force that triggers civil disobedience, Bahrain's narrative in the international media has mutated into terrorist plots.

The contrived elements of this situation are rendered evident by the precise media roll out of Bahraini officials, beginning with hardline Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa and his speech of "unity." Regardless of the messenger, the overall message of King Hamad's royal circle remains unchanged: cast protesters as the island's problem and King Hamad's rule as the solution.

"We will not be discouraged by the actions of those who are intent on undermining the stability and peaceful endeavors of Bahrain's government," the Interior Minister declared on Saturday night. "Ours is a nation committed to reforms, human rights and the rule of law."

All of these transparent moves are too insincere to improve the noxious climate of Bahrain's National Dialogue.

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