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
"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.