May 26, 2024 | Flash Brief

Bahrain Seeks to Bolster Ties with Iran

May 26, 2024 | Flash Brief

Bahrain Seeks to Bolster Ties with Iran

Latest Developments

Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the kingdom looks forward to resuming diplomatic relations with Iran during a May 23 visit to Russia. Saudi Arabian media outlet Asharq Al-Awsat reported King Hamad saying “We had problems with Iran, but not anymore. We see no reason to delay the normalization of relations with it.”

Bahrain has long maintained that Iran incites Bahrain’s majority Shia Muslim population against the Bahraini Sunni monarchy. The United States has designated Iran-backed terror groups operating in Bahrain as Foreign Terrorist Organizations, including al-Ashtar Brigades in 2018 and Saraya al-Mukhtar in 2020.  

Bahrain is host to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet and has been designated both a major non-NATO ally and a “Major Security Partner” of the United States. The Biden administration considers Bahrain among the United States’ “longest and closest partners in the Middle East.” In September 2020, Bahrain joined the Abraham Accords, normalizing relations with Israel alongside the United Arab Emirates. Three years later in September 2023 Bahrain and the United States deepened their ties by signing a strategic security and economic agreement.

Expert Analysis

“Among the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf, Bahrain, a nation with a Shia majority governed by a Sunni minority, has the least incentive to open up to the Islamic Republic, whose ultimate goal is to overthrow the current ruling elite in Manama. The rapprochement between Tehran and Manama signals that U.S. allies in the region feel abandoned and see making concessions to Tehran as their best option.” — Saeed Ghasseminejad, Senior Iran and Financial Economics Advisor

“Iran’s strategy towards Gulf Cooperation Council states is to foster greater accommodation of its revisionist agenda and hedge away from the pro-American order. Tehran does this through intimidation via proxy forces, followed by calls for de-escalation and engagement. This is akin to first knifing someone then offering a handshake. Whereas Abu Dhabi and Riyadh have fallen prey to this strategy, Manama can and should resist the temptation to treat the region’s arsonist as the firefighter.” — Behnam Ben Taleblu, FDD Senior Fellow

Iran-Backed Bahraini Militia Group Claims Drone Strike Against Israel

On May 2, the Bahrain-based militia Saraya al-Ashtar claimed responsibility for an April 27 drone strike against the southern Israeli city of Eilat. The Iran-backed Shia militia group publicly released footage of a drone launch, but the claim could not be independently verified. If confirmed, this would mark the first attack by the Bahraini militia group against Israel since the October 7 massacre. The strike was intended to support “people of resistance in Gaza,” according to its statement. Saraya al-Ashtar has repeatedly threatened Israel, Zionists, and Jewish people. In 2020, the group announced that it created a sub-unit specifically to target Israeli interests in Bahrain.

Arab leaders meet in Bahrain for summit regarding Gaza and regional development,” by Seth J. Frantzman

Bahraini militia claims drone attack on Israel,” by Joe Truzman

Iranian-backed Bahraini militias eulogize killed Hezbollah Brigades commander,” by Joe Truzman and Bill Roggio

Issues:

Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Politics and Economy Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Military and Political Power U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy