Bahrain's significance for western geostrategic planning lies not so much in its oil deposits, which are much smaller than those of other Gulf monarchies and due to be depleted in about 25 years. It derives more from its role as a military base, since Great Britain began to construct its base in its protectorate in 1935. When Bahrain became independent and the British Navy withdrew in 1971, the US Navy took over the facilities. Today, it is the home of the US Fifth Fleet's headquarters, which has the task of insuring US control over the Middle East's regional resources and the maritime routes leading toward the Mediterranean. This assures Bahrain an important function not just in the US, but also in the German ruling concepts. Military support for the coalition's war on Afghanistan is being directed from the Fifth Fleet headquarters. The US led naval intervention at the Horn of Africa, with the participation of the German Navy, in the framework of "Operation Enduring Freedom", was being commanded from Bahrain. During that period, German officers and warships were regular visitors to the kingdom. Still today, various western naval interventions off the coast of Somalia, including Atalanta (EU) are being coordinated from Bahrain, according to the German foreign ministry.
Since Iran, following the overthrow of the Shah's regime in 1979, became independent of western hegemony, western countries have not only been using Bahrain as a military base, but have been arming the country's military. Already back in 1979, Bahrain ordered two patrol boats from the Luerssen-Shipyards in Bremen, with a follow-up order for another four patrol boats and two corvettes. "I was impressed by Luerssen already when I was head of the army" the King of Bahrain announced back in early 2005, when Gerhard Schroeder made his visit to the Persian Gulf as German chancellor. Over the past few years, the German government's reports on arms exports regularly register not only millions in exports of ship spare parts to the kingdom, but also deliveries of submachine guns and ammunition, such as were used over the past few days to suppress the protests. Recently there have been unconfirmed reports that the German arms manufacturer, Rheinmetall, is bidding in Manama for a contract to deliver combat material specifically deemed for the suppression of rebellions.
Afraid of Iran
The assessment that Germany uses the military base in Bahrain and equips its military forces must be made more precise. Berlin - like Washington - cooperates with the al-Khalifah clan that has feudally ruled over the island nation since 1783. Bahrain had belonged to the Persian Empire, until the island was conquered in the 18th century by the clan currently in power. Even today, seventy percent of Bahrain's citizens are Shiite Muslims, whose base of power is in Iran. Teheran had supported an unsuccessful putsch attempt in 1981, to bring Shiites to power. Since then, the West has feared that its hegemony over the island would be endangered if the al-Khalifah clan loses control. There is systematic discrimination of the Shiite majority in the country, with western support for the ruling clan and its base in the country's Sunni elite. For more than a year, the Shiites have been resisting this growing marginalization. Last week these protests escalated to mass demonstrations, against which the military intervened with deadly results.
With All Its Capabilities
Because of Bahrain's geostrategic significance and the fear that, in the long run, the island could fall under Iran's influence, it is out of the question that Washington and Berlin would abandon the al-Khalifa clan. Even though the US and German governments are publicly warning that reforms must be made to pacify the Shiite majority in the population, violent repression is not being ruled out. Over the weekend, the highest ranking officer of the US military, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Michael Mullen, landed in Saudi Arabia for talks. In connection with his visit, the Saudi government announced that it was watching the developments in Manama "with concern" and is supporting the al-Khalifah clan "with all its capabilities". Experts point to the fact that Riad, the most powerful western ally at the Persian Gulf, could march at any time into Bahrain. This is why the famous King Fahd Causeway, the bridge built in the 1980s from the Saudi mainland to Bahrain, unquestionably has a strategic military significance.
There is no doubt that Saudi Arabia's repressive capacity, and that of the Arabian Peninsula's other princedoms, would suffice to throttle any further protests, if necessary also in blood. For decades, the West, including West Germany, has been systematically building up Bahrain's military capacity, to insure control over the most important regional resources. Over the past few years, the militarization of the peninsula has been accelerated by the West to establish a new counterforce to Iran, now that Iraq has been destroyed. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.) The Arabian repressive capacity permits western governments to call for moderation and concessions to the protesting masses - for public consumption - without running a risk of a true transition taking place.
With Friendly Permission
It is difficult to hide the fact that the repressive institutions, not only in Bahrain but also in the other countries of the Arabian Peninsula, have always relied on large arsenals of western weapons, to repress their protesters. For example, the Federal Republic of Germany supplied submachine guns not only to Bahrain, but also to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. In the near future, Saudi Arabia will only have limited need to import these firearms, thanks to German support. Last year, the Heckler and Koch weapons manufacturer, headquartered in Southern Germany's Oberndorf, granted Riad the friendly permission to produce G-36 assault rifles under license.