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Friday, April 1, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Report: Saudis challenge Iran in Bahrain having lost faith in U.S. leadership

WASHINGTON — Saudi Arabia, which has deployed thousands of troops in neighboring Bahrain, has lost faith with U.S. strategy in the Gulf, a report said.


The Foreign Policy Research Institute has asserted that the Saudi kingdom was taking its boldest military operation in decades in an effort to quell the Shi'ite revolt in Bahrain, Middle East Newsline reported. The institute, in a report by analyst Rachel Bronson, said the Saudi intervention could increase the prospect of a confrontation with Iran.

"The kingdom is clearly rattled by events in the region, and has lost faith in U.S. efforts to promote dialogue in the absence of brute force," the report, titled "Saudi Arabia's Intervention In Bahrain: A Necessary Evil Or A Strategic Blunder?" said.

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The report said the Saudis fear an Iranian presence in Bahrain, with a population that is nearly 70 percent Shi'ite. Ms. Bronson, a vice president of the institute, said the Saudi military deployment in Bahrain marked the lowest point in relations between Riyad and the United States in decades.

"Washington and Riyad are now publicly squared off on issues of political representation, violence and stability," the report said. "An antagonized U.S.-Saudi relationship could empower the radicals inside the kingdom rather than bolster more moderate forces."

The report said the Saudi deployment in Bahrain increased the chances of a confrontation with Iran. One scenario was that Iran would bolster its Shi'ite and other allies in Bahrain and other Gulf Cooperation Council states.

"An on-going battle between Saudi Arabia and Iranian-supported Bahraini fighters would easily turn into a nasty, violent and destabilizing conflict, even if Iran does not send overt military assistance," the report said.

The report said the administration of President Barack Obama has few options regarding an Iranian-Saudi confrontation. Ms. Bronson said Washington could either support Riyad, pressure Saudi forces to leave Bahrain or "waffling somewhere in the middle."

"What seems clear, however, is that whichever way events take the region, the U.S. administration should be quickly developing a new plan for how to manage a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Bahrain that will threaten on a daily basis to escalate into major conflict," the report said.

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