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Iran 'targeting Gulf with aid flotilla ploy..!'

A GLOBAL intelligence company has accused Iran of seeking to take advantage of uprisings in North Africa to destabilise the Gulf.

The allegation has been made by Stratfor Global Intelligence, which has compiled a series of reports on Iranian involvement in Bahrain's unrest since February.

Following news that an Iranian group was planning to send an "aid" flotilla to Bahrain tomorrow, the organisation has warned of "severe implications" if any attempt was made to sail to Bahrain from Iran.

"In this case you would have the Bahrain government, the GCC, not to mention the US Fifth Fleet, highly resistant to an Iranian ship trying to dock on Bahraini shores," says the report by Stratfor analyst Reva Bhalla.

"So why would Iran be supporting this aid flotilla? We have to remember that Iran is facing a historic opportunity in the region, specifically in the Gulf.

"While Iran's focus remains on filling a power vacuum in Iraq once US forces withdraw from there, the North African unrest provided Iran with a very useful opportunity to create a destabilisation campaign against its Sunni Arab rivals in the eastern Arabian region."

This is not the first time the organisation has accused Iran of trying to influence events in Bahrain.

In fact, a Stratfor report released on March 14 - when anti-government protesters were attacking innocent Asians and cordoning off large sections of Manama - accused Iran of cultivating a covert strategy in Gulf states, particularly in Bahrain, that helped advance unrest.

"The Iranians have relied on their strengths in the covert arena to pursue their agenda in Bahrain and the wider Gulf region," it said.

"This is a space that Iran feels comfortable operating in, as it is a relatively low-risk and potentially high-reward method of realising its strategic objectives.

"For Bahrain specifically, Iran has relied on its political, business and militant links to block negotiations between the Shi'ite opposition and the royal Sunni Al Khalifa family, escalate the protests, and instigate sectarian clashes to transform Bahraini political unrest to a charged sectarian affair that could potentially reshape the balance of power in eastern Arabia."

The negotiations the report refers to was a national dialogue called by His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander, which was eventually rejected by opposition groups who refused unconditional talks with the government.

In the days before the Stratfor report was released, radical movements marched through neighbourhoods predominantly inhabited by people who supported the government - raising tensions and threatening to cause serious clashes - and blocked a major highway in the capital, preventing people from reaching work.

"The Iranians have spent years building up relationships with Shi'ite communities in the Gulf Cooperation Council states and have infiltrated trained operatives in Shi'ite opposition groups to help drive the uprising," said the report.

"In Bahrain specifically, Iran appears to have a number of key assets in play."

The report named radical opposition leaders believed to have close contacts with the Iranian regime, one of whom it said "played a lead role in escalating the protests and provoking clashes between Sunni security forces and Shia in an effort to brand the conflict in Bahrain as a purely sectarian affair".

The man in question is among 21 people standing trial for attempting to overthrow the government and belonging to a foreign terrorist organisation.

Another man identified by Stratfor was an Iranian cleric who it said blocked negotiations between the opposition and the government, "putting moderate Shia on the defensive by stoking sectarian tensions and demanding no less than the overthrow of the Sunni monarchy".

It said the man belonged to the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain, which was behind a 1981 Iranian-backed coup attempt in Bahrain.

A third man was an Iraqi from Karbala, who it said organised logistics for the Bahraini protest movement by "selecting protest sites; distributing funds, supplies and food; and recruiting protesters to come out into the streets - in co-ordination with the Iranians".

"A number of operatives trained in Iran and Lebanon in urban warfare are believed to be mixed in with the various Shi'ite opposition groups," added the report.

It quoted a source as saying a Bahrain branch of Hizbollah was established in 1985 and operated in co-ordination with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force, claiming that some operatives had been deployed here as labourers.

"The Iranians have experience in supporting proxies like Hizbollah at much greater distances than Bahrain and could increase supplies of arms, materiel, training and other means of support to the hardline Shi'ite opposition in Bahrain, concealed in the day-to-day flow of commerce and civilian travel," it said.

"However, the GCC states are cracking down on Shi'ite movements in Bahrain and are trying to restrict Iran's access to the country."

A special report by Stratfor's chief intelligence officer and chief executive officer George Friedman, also dated March 14, suggested Iran's interest in Bahrain served two goals.

"The Iranians clearly benefit from an uprising in Bahrain," he said.

"It places the US Fifth Fleet's basing in jeopardy, puts the United States in a difficult position and threatens the stability of other Gulf Arab states.

"For the Iranians, the uprisings in North Africa and their spread to the Arabian Peninsula represent a golden opportunity for pursuing their long-standing interest (going back to the Shah and beyond) of dominating the Gulf."

In another report just days earlier, March 8, the same author stresses that Iran may or may not have been the initial driving force behind anti-government protests.

"Certainly, there are internal processes underway in Bahrain that have nothing to do with Iran or foreign issues," it says.

"But just as the internal dynamic of revolutions affects the international scene, the international scene affects the internal dynamic; observing just one of the two is not sufficient to understand what is going on. The Iranians clearly have an interest in overthrowing the Bahraini regime."

However, it adds that whether or not Iran was involved from the beginning, "it is certainly involved now".

l Stratfor describes itself as a global team of intelligence professionals, who aim to provide insights into political, economic and military developments around the world.

The company says it uses human intelligence and other sources combined with analysis based on geopolitics.

It also claims to be independent and non-ideological. thanratty@gdn.com.bh



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