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Next Mideast Flashpoint: Saudis Enter Bahrain

wired.com 3-14-2011 By Spencer Ackerman

The BBC’s Arabic service has posted the above amateur video, showing Saudi Arabian armored personnel carriers rushing into the tiny Gulf kingdom of Bahrain. This probably wasn’t what Defense Secretary Robert Gates had in mind when he counseled to Bahrain’s royal family to accommodate its dissidents.

It’s a move that undercuts the Obama administration’s rosy portrayal of the monarchy. Despite a paroxysm of violence in February when security forces attacked protesters in the capitol city of Manama, “today, the Pearl Roundabout in Bahrain is a place of nonviolent activism,” Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, assured reporters on March 1. After a visit last week to Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, Gates said he was convinced the royals “are serious about real reform.”

If so, that lasted until about when Gates’ plane went wheels-up. Security forces are now trying to clear Manama’s financial district of protesters, firing tear gas canisters into demonstrators’ chests. About 1000 Saudi troops entered Bahrain on Monday, ostensibly to protect government installations, but protesters at the Pearl Roundabout set up barricades in preparation for the Saudis attacking them. The leading Shia opposition party, Wefaq, called it a “declaration of war and an occupation.”

And it’s not just the Saudis. Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine tweeted that forces from the United Arab Emirates are also entering Bahrain, fulfilling a mandate from the Gulf Cooperation Council to protect the royals.

The fear from the government and the GCC is that the Bahraini uprising, heavily Shia, represents an Iranian beachhead into the Gulf countries. Gates tried to tamp that down, telling the royal family that there was “no evidence” Iran “started any of these popular revolutions or demonstrations across the region.”

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