Bahrain Moves Closer to the United States
On October 30-31 in the waters of the Persian Gulf, the 25th exercise of the U.S.–led Proliferation Security Initiative (P.S.I.), launched in 2003, took place. The countries involved in the war games have been the United States, United Kingdom, Italy, France, Australia and Bahrain, an Arab state that has a large Shi'a population. Several other states, such as the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Pakistan, South Korea, Japan and others, took part as observers. The operation, called "Leading Edge," consisted of the interception of a British-flagged ship, the "Brambleleaf," carrying nuclear materials for a state that wanted to build a nuclear capability. The Italian and Bahraini marines had the task of intercepting the ship.
The exercises took place about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Iranian waters. The individuals in charge of this operation denied that it was a warning signal to Tehran. Nevertheless, it is likely that this exercise had the aim of intimidating Iran. Indeed, Iran warned that the exercises risked peace in the Gulf and urged foreign military forces not to damage regional stability. Shortly after, Iran started its "Great Prophet II" war games, a ten day military exercise in which Iran fired its "upgraded" Shahab-3 long-range missile. Iran's action was a clear reply to the U.S. maneuvers in the Gulf.
In the wake of these war games, it is important to highlight the role of Bahrain in the exercises because its involvement is a clear signal of how Manama's foreign policy in the region will change in the coming years.
Why Bahrain Joined "Leading Edge"
Bahrain has been the sole Arab state that took part effectively in the P.S.I. exercises in the Persian Gulf. Several Arab states, such as Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, took part as observers, while Saudi Arabia did not join the operation. Bahrain's decision is a clear signal of Manama's desire to strengthen its relations with the United States. Bahrain considers the United States the best actor for guaranteeing its national security.
This is a further demonstration of how external powers continue to play major roles in the Middle East. Since the end of the "British Lake" period in 1971, the United States played an even stronger role in the area and, since the Gulf War in 1991, Washington rose as the prominent military power in the region. Since 1991, Bahrain, which is considered a major non-N.A.T.O. ally and hosts the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, shares a strong partnership with the United States.
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