The arrival of Saudi and other Gulf troops in Bahrain may provide a stepping stone for Iran to join the regional conflict, analysts said Wednesday.
“Clearly the situation is spiraling out of control and getting dangerous,” said Theodore Karasik of the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.
“I think we are moving to a new chapter… It has the potential of pulling in Iran rhetorically as well as physically. Last week, it seems more distant, now it seems closer,” he said.
Iran may use the notion of foreign interference to intervene under the guise of offering protection to protesting Shiites in the kingdom, he said.
“It is the proxy war they [Iran and the Gulf states] have been having that has come through various cycles and is now coming to a head,” he said.
Iran was quick to condemn the arrival of Gulf troops on Monday, urging Bahrain not to allow what it called foreign interference in protests that have gripped the island for more than a month.
“Using other countries' military forces to oppress these demands is not the solution,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hossein Amir Abdollahian told the Fars news agency.
Christopher Davidson, professor of Middle East politics at the UK’s Durham University, said the presence of Gulf troops would “delegitimize the ruling family, embolden the protestors, and anger Iran.”
Iran has denied rumours that it is backing Shiite activists in the kingdom.
Two Bahraini policemen were killed Wednesday during an operation to clear anti-government protestors from a central roundabout in Manama where they have camped for weeks, a health official said. [latest photos]
The two policemen were knocked down by protesters driving in cars at high speeds, the official said. It was not clear how many protesters were hurt.
Bahrain security forces used tear gas to drive protesters from their rallying point at the central Pearl Roundabout in Manama, after Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries sent military support.
The mostly Shiite Muslim demonstrators fled into nearby backstreets as military vehicles were deployed near the area and helicopters flew overhead. Gunfire was heard in the capital.
Riot police put out fires with water cannons and began to fan out into the city streets after Pearl Roundabout was emptied. The stock market suspended trading.
Bahrain on Tuesday declared a three-month state of emergency after troops from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states arrived in the kingdom to help quell protests driven by the majority Shiites, who are calling for democracy and civil rights.
Some opposition groups taking part in the protests have escalated their demands to include the overthrow of the Sunni rulers, the Al Khalifa family, and the declaration of a republic.
Bahraini police opened fire on protesters in the village of Sitra yesterday, the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights said. At least two people were killed and 250 people injured during clashes, Ali Al-Akri, a doctor in the emergency room of the Salmaniya Medical Complex, said in an interview.
“Their mission is supposed to be to protect buildings and infrastructure but that mission may change,” said Karasik. “They went in under the guise of the Peninsula Shield, which was an entity after the Gulf War and serves as a collective defense pact against outside force but here it is being used to suppress internal dissent in a member state.”
The US has urged Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter and a key ally in the Gulf Arab region, to show restraint, though analysts said the escalation showed the limits of US influence when internal security was threatened.
“The international community is hamstrung as the US likely places its alliance with the Bahraini rulers against Iran above concerns for supporting pro-democracy protestors,” said Davidson.
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