The tiny Gulf kingdom of Bahrain became the first Arab country to place the Shiite Lebanese movement, Hezbollah, on their terrorist list earlier this week. It is a rather bold step on their part and the implications are enormous while the ultimate consequences are yet unknown. In punishing Hezbollah, Bahrain is at the same time pointing an accusing finger directly at Iran.
But first some background on the reasons behind this latest development. Bahrain, much like Lebanon has an important Shiite community. And much like the Shiites in Lebanon, those in the oil-rich sheikhdom felt that they were not treated on a par with their fellow citizens who belong to the Sunni majority. If indeed the Sunnis still hold the majority. In Lebanon, as in Bahrain their numbers have been growing though the authorities are reluctant to admit that may in fact have surpassed the minority status.
A popular movement of protests began to take to the streets in Bahrain a couple of years ago as the Bahraini Shiites were inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. If the revolts in North Africa were encouraged by some Gulf countries, the attitude when it came to Bahrain was a very different one. When the king of Bahrain was on the verge of conceding to Shiite pressures and appoint a prime minister from their community, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates stepped in and dispatched troops to put down the rebellion.
All along the authorities in Manama, the Bahraini capital, blamed Iran and Hezbollah for fomenting the troubles. Bahrain claimed that Hezbollah was training Bahraini Shiites in revolutionary tactics in secret camps in Lebanon.
US intelligence sourced the notion of Iranian intervention in Bahrain, saying there was not enough evidence to support those accusations. In the past Bahrain tended to avoid naming Iran directly, accusing instead, “foreign powers.” No one had any doubts as to whom those powers might be, but still, it was one way of avoiding being too confrontational and leaving a back channel open for possible future negotiations.
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This new move now leaves no room for diplomatic maneuvering and clearly and unequivocally places Iran in the dock of the accused.
Now that Hezbollah is directly named as a terrorist organization by an Arab country raises the stakes somewhat and places Bahrain in a position of possibly becoming the target of retaliatory attacks, either from Hezbollah or by groups or individuals supporting it. Or if one was Machiavellian enough, maybe even attacks by those who oppose the Shiite movement just to make it seems as though it was them, to further discredit them.
How would the interruption of Bahraini oil and/or gas affect the world markets?
What would it do to the price of oil at the pump? One can only speculate at this time as of course much would depend on the extent of the damages suffered, if any, but suffice to say that Bahrain’s production of oil for 2012 was estimated around 44,800 bbl/day. And the country holds more than 107.2 million bbl of proven reserves.
No doubt his latest development will please a group of panelists who gave a talk last week at the Potomac Institute asking all countries to label Hezbollah a terrorist organization and to have sanctions imposed against it and travel restrictions imposed on its leaders.
Sanctions against a party, group or militia will hardly yield any results when sanctions against countries have failed. Travel bans on their leaders? Do you really think that Hassan Nasrallah and Sheikh Naim Qassem book their travel through commercial airliners? If and when they do leave the safety of their sanctuary in Beirut’s southern suburbs, it is typically for a very specific reason, such as a meeting with the leader of a friendly state, in which case transportation as well as security details is provided.
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However, the likelihood of this approach working has little possibility of success. Indeed, the approach to solving this issues is so 1960; dated, passé, and ineffective. The policy suggested by the three speakers at this conference was after all not much different than what was proposed and advocated on dealing with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
But how that has changed. The PLO and their leaders are now received at the White House with all the honors due to any world leader.
Is Hezbollah a terrorist outfit? It depends on whom you ask. The organization is composed of three wings: a political wing that is represented in the Lebanese government and parliament, and given the Lebanese bizarre electoral structure, Hezbollah even has some Christian deputies on its electoral lists.
The military wing, or as some in the West refer to it, the terrorist wing.
And the third arm of the Shiite movement’s social affairs division. This is perhaps the most important section in the organization. They are the ones who lay the groundwork for the grass roots followers and gives the movement the strength is currently has by offering social services such as the schools and hospitals it provides in the absence of state institutions.
In the aftermath of the last major round of fighting between Hezbollah and the Israelis in 2007, party officials came out of the shelters in Beirut’s southern suburbs with boxes of US dollars to hand over on the spot to anyone who’s house was destroyed by the bombing. Where was the Lebanese government? Nowhere to be found. Guess where the majority’s sympathy goes.
By. Claude Salhani
Claude Salhani, a specialist in conflict resolution, is an independent journalist, political analyst and author of several books on the region. His latest book, 'Islam Without a Veil,' is published by Potomac Books. He tweets @claudesalhani.