Shock headline from the New York Times this morning: “Saudi Troops Enter Bahrain…” But don’t worry: it’s cooperative. Or, at least it’s cooperative between the two royal families who head the neighboring Arab monarchies. Saudi Arabia sending troops to Bahrain makes sense: The intended demonstrations in Saudi Arabia last week didn’t pan out, leaving its monarchy with available resources to use in the more tumultuous, more extensive, and longer-lasting demonstrations in its tiny island neighbor just across the gulf of Bahrain. (Perhaps most importantly, the House of Saud may be interesting in protecting their fellow Sunnis, who, just across the gulf, are a dominant minority facing protests primarily from the Shiite majority). All of which is to say that this mercenary action could have been anticipated and is unlikely to precipitate a major international crisis — though it’s obviously bad news for Bahrain’s Shiites and democrats, and may escalate the conflict within Bahrain.
The Times has the full story:
Troops from Saudi Arabia and police officers from the United Arab Emirates crossed into Bahrain on Monday under the aegis of the Gulf Cooperation Council to help quell unrest there, a move Bahraini opposition groups denounced in a statement as an “occupation.”
The deployments were confirmed by the state-run Bahrain News Agency and the foreign minister of the Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan.
In Paris, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed, said on Monday that the government of Bahrain had asked its neighbors in the Gulf Cooperation Council “to look at ways to help them to defuse the tension in Bahrain.” Appearing briefly with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who did not mention the events in Bahrain, Sheik Abdullah said the U.A.E. had dispatched 500 police officers with the Saudi forces and that other Gulf states would also send troops. His remarks suggested an escalating intervention.
“There are other Gulf countries which are going to participate to support the Bahrain government, and to get calm and order in Bahrain — and to help both the Bahraini government and people to reach a solution,” he said.
Witnesses said a convoy of 150 armored troop carriers and about 50 other lightly armed vehicles carried about 1,000 troops across the bridge linking Saudi Arabia to the tiny island kingdom, and a Saudi security official told The Associated Press that the troops were there to protect critical buildings and installations like oil facilities. However, witnesses later said that the convoy seemed to be heading for Riffa, a Sunni area that is home to the royal family and a military hospital that is closed to the public, Reuters reported.
The opposition statement said it considered the arrival of any soldier or military vehicle “an overt occupation of the kingdom of Bahrain and a conspiracy against the unarmed people of Bahrain.”
A senior administration official said the United States was “definitely concerned” by the deployment of troops, saying the protests in Bahrain needed “a political solution, not military.” The State Department dispatched Jeffrey D. Feltman, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, to Bahrain on Monday. He had been scheduled to join Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on her travels to Egypt and Tunisia this week.
Pro-government lawmakers, called the Independent Bloc, asked the government to enforce martial law for three months to ensure public safety and national stability threatened by what it called “extremist” elements, the Bahrain News Agency reported.
Anti-government protesters remained in the streets of Manama, the capital, on Monday, a day after thousands clashed with security forces in the most chaotic day of confrontation since demonstrations began a month ago. The protests are part of the regional turmoil against autocracy but are fed in Bahrain by tensions between the majority Shiite population and the Sunni royal family and elite.
Today, White House press sec Jay Carney threw some cold water on the more overheated fears the headlines induced by clarifying that “”We’ve seen the reports that you’re talking about. This is not an invasion of a country.”