At the end of March, the Iranian news agency Tasnim reported, citing Iranian MP E. Khazad, that Bahrain and Iran would soon reopen their diplomatic missions. The Iranian delegation visited Bahrain as part of its participation in the next Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, where, in addition to sessional events, the Iranians held separate bilateral negotiations. Later, similar signals began to come from the Arab side.
The role of the island kingdom
The importance of this message is determined not by the scale of Bahrain as a geopolitical entity, but by the specific role that a small island kingdom in the Persian Gulf traditionally plays at the junction of Persian, British, American and Arab interests. Moreover, taking into account the negotiation process in the region as a whole, relations between Bahrain and Iran today are also a kind of marker by which one can assess the degree of implementation of various major projects.
Negotiation processes related to the establishment of relations between the most diverse players, who were previously often in a state of aggressive rejection, direct or indirect military confrontation, are now gaining momentum. Here, Iran and Saudi Arabia are only the largest and most noticeable episode, and there are many more smaller episodes: B. Assad’s visit to the UAE, statements about plans to normalize relations between Oman and Iran, Riyadh’s readiness to cooperate with Iran in Afghanistan, the resumption of issuance of tourist and student visas to Iranians by Egypt. Things got to the point that a discussion was opened in the French Foreign Ministry about the urgent need to resume trade relations with Syria, because otherwise it would be impossible to catch the train. But amid this negotiating activity, Iran-Bahrain relations are of particular importance.
The area occupied by the Kingdom of Bahrain, located on a group of islands north of Qatar, is less than 800 square meters. km. Geographically, this is a tiny point. However, it is worth looking at the map, which shows the oil terminals of the Saudis, as well as the Kuwaiti ports of Shuaiba and Mina al-Ahmadi, not to mention the gas terminals of Qatar, and everything falls into place: Bahrain is one of the main outposts covering raw materials logistics in the Persian Gulf. US bases in the region are located along the entire coast, but it is the base in Manama (the capital of Bahrain) that has its own special status as the headquarters of the 5th fleet USA, the constant presence of strike units. The headquarters occupies an entire block and a wharf system. In fact, from this point, as from the center of the web, the US is trying to monitor and control any military and commercial activity in the Persian Gulf.
No wonder it is in Manama that the annual (one of the largest) military-political forum takes place - the so-called. "Manama Dialogue", where politicians, functionaries and employees of Western think tanks gather. There is no doubt that a significant part of the military-political steps in the Ukrainian direction was agreed at the end of November last year just at the forum in Manama.
When the British Empire established Middle Eastern protectorates, its elite quite reasonably assessed Bahrain as a kind of key point, where contradictions were manifested not only between the Arab and Persian worlds, not only inter-confessional contradictions, but also inter-tribal and inter-dynastic between large Arab clans. The echoes of the latter allowed Britain, and then the United States, to play the role of "managing arbiter" for quite a long time, and this role did not decrease much throughout the XNUMXth century.
Bahrain belonged to the Persian Empire until the 1850th century, its main population is generally Shiite and still gravitates towards Iran. Since the middle of the XNUMXth century, representatives of one of the Arab tribal unions (Banu Utba, from which the ruling house of Bahrain al-Khalifa emerges), relying on the territory of modern Qatar, with the support of their neighbors, overcome the Persians and take the territory of the Bahrain archipelago. Over time, their "distant relatives" from another tribal confederation (Banu Tamim, from where the ruling house of Qatar al-Thani comes from) gradually seize power directly in Qatar itself and in XNUMX announce a separation.
By the middle of the 1868th century, trade routes were already under the British protectorate, and the divorce between Bahrain and Qatar after hostilities against each other was “drawn up” in XNUMX by the British. Oil at that time was not yet a determining factor, but the sea around was historical a source of pearls, not to mention that they were also collection points for the international trade in precious and semi-precious stones.
The roots of all these problems have not gone away to this day. Iran considers Bahrain to be its "historical territories", the Iranian media and politicians closely monitor any religious tensions in Bahrain, and the royal house in Bahrain itself is forced to take into account that it is still a representative of the ruling minority. At the same time, it is Bahrain that is the traditional antagonist of Qatar in the “friendly Arab family”, which manifested itself when Qatar was boycotted for its “cooperation with the Persians” in 2017.
As a small but characteristic touch, there is a bridge from Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, but it still doesn’t exist in Qatar, and it’s not very clear when it will appear at all. In 2011, the “Arab spring” came back to haunt it in Bahrain, where the Shiite population, as the majority, decided that it was also necessary to acquire “a little democracy”, and Tehran actively helped it in this.
The contradictions between the players here are so strong and historically deep that any systemic aggravation or, conversely, a trend towards normalization means a change in the very model of relations in the region. That is why the author prefers to use the word "marker" here. For almost 170 years, this model has been shaped in one way or another with the participation of Britain and the United States. The model was not static, it was transformed, but partners in the Arabian Peninsula always “didn’t finish talking a little” with the allies.
Since the late 1990s, this model has relied in one way or another on the term “Greater Middle East” (GME). At first glance, the idea of the BBW seems to be quite sensible as a kind of principle - since a significant part of the problems are the product of the controlled collapse of empires in the first half of the XNUMXth century, controlled, but not very skillful, then these artificial contradictions had to be corrected. Along the way, turning the same BBV into a controlled source of global energy stability.
The idea of control over energy resources after the Suez crisis was generally one of the fixed ideas for the United States (the so-called concept of US energy security). Another thing is that the United States could not voice the whole idea in the complex, even the appearance of the so-called. “R. Peters' maps” on American secondary resources in 2006 came as a shock to the Middle Eastern countries, especially to Turkey.
Map by R. Peters
If the entrance to one of the iterations of this project in 2001–2003 was relatively successful for the United States - the regime of S. Hussein was not close to anyone in the region and, having provoked him to enter Kuwait, the United States naturally received support or neutrality from various sides, then the further development of the GME encountered so many local features and contradictions , which the US think tanks could neither master conceptually nor sell in the region. As a result, I had to play with partners in the dark, selling each player something of their own. But the problem was that the US partners, exactly based on these special interests, created their own parties themselves.
One of the key factors here, of course, was the emergence of ISIS (banned in the Russian Federation). It would seem that for the same Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the presence of such a factor in Yemen should have helped to “fight the pro-Iranian forces”, however, the help was very, very specific, since the adherents of this formation themselves began to directly declare that they would “carry out the house of Saud” like the rest of the ruling Arab houses.
It was good to sell this idea to Turkey, but the problem is that in the end the project of a united Kurdistan began to appear more and more clearly. ISIS (banned in the Russian Federation) rolled like a skating rink across pro-Iranian Syria, which, it would seem, was very beneficial in Israel, but even hawks in Tel Aviv began to wonder in which direction this “international” would move if it defeated official Damascus? At the same time, Israel most actively helped the Kurdish national project, working against Turkey. ISIS (banned in the Russian Federation) was sometimes associated with "plans for laying a pipeline to Europe", which was also only one of a dozen other false flags.
Each of the numerous players in the region was sold the project not just in parts, but according to an individual plan, without disclosing (which was impossible) the plan as a whole, and at the same time pushing each of them to finance their part at their own expense. The first to doubt was Qatar, stimulated by the defeat in Aleppo, then the United Arab Emirates, then Turkey, etc. The US administration did not have the resources or skills to manage such a global web of divergent interests.
It is difficult to say whether at the moment such a level of qualification exists in principle for anyone. Such a plan obviously required a consolidated and fully controlled core of interested parties, but it is impossible to create just such a core in the Middle East. In the same European Union, a preliminary political and economic common base was nevertheless created for this. And even in the US administration itself, even during the implementation of the GME, various towers fought mercilessly with each other, with their own vision, funding, etc. Only in the US there are three global projects, two jointly with the EU and not a single one uniting with the Middle East.
What is left in the end?
It remained to return from the GME to the traditional consolidating factor “everyone is against Iran”. The Trump administration did not bring this issue to its logical conclusion, and the current one can only use this element of the strategy, rather, by inertia. It was good for the strategists under George W. Bush, they did not have a headache about the need to transform the economic model.
The world is steadily moving towards not just different economic "superclusters", but also towards a distribution economy, where profit ceases to be a driving factor. For everything together - holding the EU, fighting in Eastern Europe, China, new concepts of the economy and currency, the United States simply does not have the resources. The GMB project in its various forms has gone down in history, and the players in the region have gone free-floating, choosing from various options those that at least hypothetically promise stability.
In this regard, small Bahrain is an analogue of the planet on which the observer points the telescope - outwardly it is a small point, and when focusing, you can see in miniature the entire set of regional contradictions. If it starts to unwind there, then we are witnessing the end of a rather serious historical thirty-year period. If the agreements on this track lead to the signing of binding documents, then American authorship can be put an end to in various forms of the Greater Middle East.
Judging by the tone and content of the materials that came out in the second half of March as part of the US Institute for Middle East Policy (and this is a professional near-government center), the expert community is already offering to come to terms with reality. In general, we see this in the concrete steps of Washington - a lot of provocative noise in the media, aggressive statements, but at the same time, specific measures are precisely aimed at “not making it worse”, in particular, various indulgences for Iraq, even for Afghanistan. All this does not mean that the US will “leave” – it cannot leave the region. In the absence of a working project, they will have to look for those bottlenecks where they can stick a stopper or bring confusion, and even more so, one of their priorities will be to put obstacles in the normalization of relations between Syria and Saudi Arabia.
As a whole, almost all regional players benefit from the completion of the Greater Middle East project, with the possible exception of the concept of a united Kurdistan and a number of forces in Israel. This project would not have collapsed if Russia had not entered the Syrian campaign, which, despite criticism in our country, should be called effective - after all, it is largely thanks to it that we have the complimentary neutrality of different parties in the Middle East under the sanctions and a certain synergy in matters of energy policy.
But what benefits Russia will receive in the future (or not receive), here it is necessary to plan separately, and within the framework of long time cycles that are not very familiar to us. Now Moscow's priority for April is strengthening cooperation with Iran, as well as Turkish-Iranian relations within the framework of the Syrian settlement, but, perhaps, in the light of the foregoing, it is necessary to intensify efforts just to pacify Saudi Arabia and Syria.