As Iran becomes increasingly assertive in the Arab world, the Navy’s brand new Bahraini base finds itself on the frontlineby Mike Jackson / June 6, 2018 / Leave a comment
Last month the Royal Navy opened its new base, HMS Juffair, in Bahrain—the first new overseas naval establishment for decades. Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said it would play a “vital role in keeping Britain safe as well as underpinning security in the Gulf.” The announcement was initially made by Philip Hammond in 2014 as a commitment to the region and in particular the United States-led efforts to protect maritime transport from piracy and potential state aggression. At the time, concerns about Iranian activity in the region centred primarily around its nuclear programme, which was subject to the final rounds of negotiations for the JCPOA.
Since then, especially in the year following President Donald Trump’s election, focus has increased on Iran’s use of proxies, both political and military, to influence the Arab world. We have always known and cared about Iranian support for Hezbollah, and Syrian and Iraqi Shia militias—but they had been seen in the context of the many various armed groups fighting for control of largely ungoverned conflict areas, and in any case we were very distracted by the more urgent campaign against Islamic State.
But as the terror group recedes from the battlefield and it becomes increasingly clear that Iran not only wants to stay in these countries, but dominate them, and as it steps up its efforts to prolong conflict in other arenas like Yemen, the Islamic Republic’s behaviour in the region is coming to be seen as the greatest threat to its stability, based as is it is on territorial ambition rather than domestic security.
Europeans and Americans outside the White House tend to give a lower weighting to this concern than the threat of a nuclear Iran, which is why they were prepared to remain in the deal even if it meant a continuation of Iran’s assertive foreign policy. But seen from the view of Iran’s neighbours, the countries which Tehran has sworn to destroy and whose borders the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ proxies have amassed on with ballistic missiles, the priorities are understandably a bit different.
Chief among these highly-alert neighbours is Bahrain—a country with a large Shia population that is no stranger to Iranian interference. The Washington Post reported last month that the IRGC is still brazenly arming and supporting Bahraini insurgents, preparing…