CHARLOTTE, N.C., Aug. 4, 2015 – While John Kerry et al. have been bridging the gap between the West and Iran, the Iranians have made several attempts to destabilize the tiny island nation of Bahrain. According to an article by Michael Rubin for Commentary Magazine, there have recently been four weapons caches seized and two aborted smuggling attempts by boat and two more by bus despite the presence of a U.S. Naval facility on the island.
So what? Isn’t Bahrain in the Middle East? Is it not roughly as far away from American shores as are Syria, Libya, Iraq and all the rest?
The answer is “yes” on all counts. So why then does it matter?
It matters because Bahrain is, in its own way, is different. Different historically. Different geographically. Different philosophically. In a sense, Bahrain is sort of a mini-version of Dubai in that it has adapted its Islamic heritage to Western culture in a way that indicates there is actually potential for co-existence. Not that Bahrain is extremist-free, but it is far more open than many of its Islamic relatives.
As Rubin points out, “While many of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries have difficulty defining themselves as more than ‘tribes with flags,’ Bahrain was actually host to an ancient civilization.”
But here is where the media let us down and where the Obama administration fails to recognize the magnitude of its foolhardiness.
Because of Bahrain’s location in the Arabian Gulf (it is only called the Persian Gulf in the West), most people assume that it, too, is an oil-rich oasis in the Middle East. True, initial oil exploration began in Bahrain in the mid-1930s that led to the first oil well in the Arab world. But Bahrain’s supply was limited, and with the discovery of Well #7 in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain quickly became an afterthought.
Being an island nation with few resources, Bahrain was forced to diversify its economy and, in so doing, became a regional financial center and a manufacturing hub. With a more globally interwoven economy a work ethic developed in Bahrain that is atypical of most Arab countries. Bahrain’s tolerance and flexibility with outsiders from all corners of the world coincided with its small size and need for expatriate labor.
Geographically, Bahrain is situated just across a causeway that connects it with Saudi Arabia and the vast oil empire of Saudi Aramco.
When weekends roll around, “pious” Saudis don their Western clothes and make a beeline for the causeway and Bahrain, where they can drink alcohol freely, hire the pleasures of female companionship and even eat pork if they so desire. Needless to say, crossing the causeway between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia when the work week is over makes Los Angeles traffic congestion look like an expressway.
Expatriates much prefer to fly in and out of Bahrain than Saudi Arabia because airport security is much less of a hassle than it is to enter through the country where they work. There is also a running competition between re-entering Western expatriates attempting to sneak past Saudi customs officials with a stockpile of ham and/or bacon following a weekend respite in Bahrain.
Despite that however, Bahrain does have a history of sectarian unrest and a lack of political reform among Sunnis and Shi’ites. There was an attempted coup in 1981 that was led by Iran. In the mid-1990s and again in 2011, Bahraini Shi’ites rose up due to legitimate political grievances. Consequently, Iran has been attempting to utilize this internal discontent for its own purposes for decades.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that just a few miles away, separated only by a 10- or 12-mile causeway, lies some of Saudi Arabia’s richest oil production facilities. Consider the impact of a nuclear Iran sitting a ferry boat ride away from one of the world’s largest oil and natural gas providers.
Travelers crossing the causeway between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain could just as easily believe they are vacationing in the Florida Keys. The landscape is that scenic and beautiful.
Scenic and beautiful until you realize that a well financed, well armed rogue sponsor of terrorism such as Iran could be physically no more than a stone’s throw away from global economic chaos.
Then again, Daddy Obama knows best.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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