CONTENT PREVIEW
Terrorism & Insurgency

Apparent increase in Iranian material support for Bahraini militants likely intended as deterrence against Saudi escalation

08 March 2018

Key Points

  • IHS Markit cannot independently verify Bahraini claims, nor the scale and nature of Iranian support for Bahraini militants. However, the suspected militants’ possession of such an arsenal, if confirmed, would indicate an improvement in capability to inflict greater casualties and property damage.
  • Iran’s increasing public association with Shia militants diminishes its plausible deniability for future attacks claimed by affiliated groups, such as the Bahrain-based al-Ashtar Brigades. Coupled with Iranian recognition that sophisticated attacks on strategic assets would risk Saudi/US military retaliation, this suggests Bahrain would be used as a front against Saudi Arabia in the event of a broader Iran-Saudi/US regional escalation, rather than an indication of impending escalation in the currently low-level insurgency inside Bahrain.
  • Such improvements in militant capability, if confirmed, would increase risk of more sophisticated attacks on state security forces, particularly those deployed near Shia villages, and less-secure state-owned commercial buildings, or government offices. Any attacks on well-secured energy assets or US military assets, if forthcoming, would likely require insider help to be successful.

Event

On 3 March, Bahrain’s state news agency reported that security authorities had arrested 116 suspected members of an unidentified terrorist cell “formed and supported by” Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, seizing small-arms, materials for improvised explosive devices, as well as anti-personnel explosives, fragmentation bombs, and devices capable of damaging armoured vehicles.The commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’s Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, walks in Tehran on 11 February 2016, during celebrations for the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)The commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’s Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, walks in Tehran on 11 February 2016, during celebrations for the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

The Bahrain News Agency report stated that 48 (of the 116 arrested) had received military training from the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) in Iran and its proxies Hizbullah in Lebanon and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq in Iraq.

The cell was said to have been planning to attack security forces and energy assets inside the kingdom, according to the report. Bahraini authorities regularly accuse Iran of supporting Shia militants conducting attacks in inside Bahrain, while Iranian officials regularly deny such allegations.

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