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Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE – Clear and Present Danger?

November 10, 2012

Maybe I haven’t been watching enough CIA, espionage or international conspiracy movies lately. Or maybe I’m just plain dumb. But I have to admit that the latest front page story coming out of the Bahrain media has me baffled.

Today’s Gulf Daily News runs a story about a substantial terror plot. Quoting a Kuwait newspaper, the GDN reports that operatives from Hizbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard have entered Bahrain and other GCC countries with the intention of unleashing a terror campaign over Christmas and New Year. It also claims that British security sources have confirmed Hizbollah’s  involvement in Monday’s explosions in Manama.

The paper goes on to say that:

According to Nato intelligence, Hizbollah reportedly withdrew 600 to 700 of its Iran-trained terror experts from their bases in Bekaa, North Litani and other villages in Southern Lebanon and sent them to Syria to back the beleaguered Damascus regime.

The Lebanese militia had also deployed 300 to 400 of its agents to join other Iranian-linked terror cells in Bahrain, the Saudi Eastern Province, Kuwait and the UAE.

These agents have all been trained in intelligence operations, car bombings, planting deadly explosives in public and official places, in addition to assassinations.

According to the British security sources, pro-Assad regime Syrian and Lebanese dormant cells have also been activated to target the GCC countries.

The sources warned that Qatar, in particular, could be targeted by a devastating campaign of terror and sabotage.

Middle Eastern diplomatic and security reports have also warned that the GCC countries could be targeted by the “biggest campaign of sabotage, explosions and assassinations” in their history.

Lebanese, Israeli and Jordanian security reports said that local as well as Lebanese, Iraqi and Iranian Shi’ite cells and gangs are being mobilised to target the GCC.

According to the same sources, these “sleeping terror cells” were formed to retaliate to any US or Israeli attack on Iran.

The cells have reportedly been reinforced by hundreds of killers, saboteurs and explosive experts to foment internal unrest in GCC countries and deter them from supporting the Syrian revolution.

Quite a dramatic assertion, all told. It seems also that David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister, warned GCC leaders of the threat, presumably on his recent visit to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

I find the last two quoted paragraphs quite intriguing. So we understand that the hit squads were originally formed and implanted so that they could retaliate in the event of the long awaited Israeli attack on Iran. Then we learn that they will be activated in order to deter the GCC countries from supporting the anti-Assad forces in Syria.

As an ordinary bloke on the street who has no access to inside information of any kind, far be it from me to question the story on any but the most obvious grounds. And the obvious question which occurs is this. If these lethal sleeper cells are waiting for the wake-up  within the next month and are planning to wreak havoc in the countries named, surely by coming into the open they make it more likely that they will be detected and neutralised before any Israeli strike takes place?

I would have thought that if you are going to launch a terror campaign, you only have one chance. Unless there are tens of cells with no knowledge of each other, and you activate only half of the cells in the first strike, your chances of launching a second terror campaign hot on the heels of the first one would seem to be limited.

Another obvious question is why, if information on the threat comes from British intelligence and was passed on to the GGC leaders by David Cameron, the advice provided by the British Foreign Office to British residents in these countries and visitors has not changed to reflect the enhanced threat? When I checked the FCO website this evening, the advisory for Bahrain did indeed reflect the Monday bombings, but maintained that travel restrictions are not necessary:

This advice has been reviewed and reissued with amendments to the Safety and Security section (pipe bomb in Gudaibiya area on 7 November). The overall level of the advice has not changed; there are no travel restrictions in place in this travel advice for Bahrain.

So is this a bluff by Iran to intimidate the GCC countries, or is it real? We have seen similar threats come to nothing – most notably by Saddam Hussain in 2003. Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE are relatively small countries with, I believe, sophisticated intelligence services that are continually using all the techniques available to them to monitor and detect potential threats. Could such a large number of operatives easily infiltrate those countries undetected?

Hopefully not. There remains another possibility, of course. And this is that an Israeli strike could be imminent, and that the Iranians have set the wake-up call now in anticipation of that strike.

Again, hopefully not. But certainly the story supports the narrative consistently maintained by Bahrain and Saudi Arabia since March 2011 that the hand of Iran is orchestrating much of the unrest both in the island and in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province.

Yet we now seem to have three different themes behind the Iranian interference – support for the opposition in Bahrain, deterrence against support of the Syrian opposition and retaliation for an Israel strike. At a time when the Iranian regime may well perceive itself to be in mortal peril as the result of multiple threats – both military and economic – one would think that it would focus on a single strategy of deterrence in order to protect itself against the main threat: Israel.

Whatever the situation, the good news is that the GCC governments have an opportunity to take pre-emptive action in defence of their populations over the next month. Let’s hope they can do so without having to take drastic measures beyond those already in place.

From → Middle East, Politics, UK

  1. Alice Hope permalink

    Thank you for posting this blog. I am resident in Bahrain, and my three university age children are coming here for Christmas. Although you have quoted extensively from the GDN cover page from 10th November you have not included the specific timing given for the alleged terror threat – specifically Christmas and New Year. Since reading that I have scoured the internet to find any other references to this article and there are none. I had thought that the UK in Bahrain facebook page would be full of concerned questions asking for confirmation or denial of this story. There is nothing. The Daily Tribune for that day only had a ‘don’t panic’ story following Monday’s bombings (although page 5 was a MOI advert showing what pipe bombs might look like). I could only conclude that the GDN gave this story such prominence because, as a strong government supporter, it would be yet another good reason for an increased security clampdown here in Bahrain. Then again Bahrain is wishing to portray a ‘situation under control’ image so far as possible, and encourage business and tourists, so from that point of view again it would not be in their interests to have this large front page cover. I can’t see any official response from the Government anywhere. I am so pleased to read your blog, I was beginning to think I was the only person who had read the report as there was a resounding silence. I had to conclude that it was without substance and no one takes any notice of what is in the newspapers! Keep up the good work. Alice.

    • Thanks for your comment, Alice. I too find it strange that the GDN would lead with such a story, and that it would then be followed by a resounding silence. I would hate to speculate about their motives for publishing this if they didn’t believe it to be based in reality. But if as you suggest there is a desire to justify the current clampdown, I would have thought that it will serve that purpose in the eyes of some, but is likely also be counterproductive, in that,as you imply,the anxiety it causes will do no good to the economy, especially if people like you and me cancel visits from our loved ones during the forthcoming holidays.

      Another thing to be aware of is that the story was not just about a threat to Bahrain. The UAE gets many tourists at Christmas and new year also.

      I think the only sensible approach is to wait and see, and not to come to any hasty conclusions…


      • Alice Hope permalink

        I quite agree with all you have written. It is all very strange!

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