Iran’s Clandestine War on the Kingdom of Bahrain: Saraya al Ashtar and the Military Wing of Hezbollah Bahrain

Number: 41
Mitchell Belfer - Khalid Alshaikh

The 1979 Iranian revolution continues to reverberate throughout the Middle East. While many of the more pronounced Iranian proxies, such as Lebanese Hezbollah and the Houthi militia in Yemen, are the focus of a wide assortment of terror-state explorations, it is important to look at some of the other organizations that Tehran utilizes in pursuit of its regional and international interests. Bahrain, has long been of a strategic interest to the Islamic Republic as it regards it as its Fourteenth Province and a stepping stone to a more direct confrontation with Saudi Arabia. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp prioritizes operations against Bahrain, for Manama has faced a host of radicalized terrorist groups commanded by the IRGC over the years which conducted terrorist attacks and coup attempts. While Bahraini security operations were able to contain most Iranian terrorist groups, the 2011 upheaval in much of the Arab world provided clandestine groups with new opportunities to polarize Bahrain and inspire political violence. This study focuses on several of the main Iran-backed groups to have emerged in Bahrain since 2011. Identifying the so-called: Saraya al Ashtar, along with its political umbrella Al Wafa movement, and the Military Wing of Hezbollah Bahrain, as the main groups, this study seeks to provide an understanding of those organizations since they pose the most pronounced challenge to Bahrain (at present) and to stability in the wider Arab Gulf. Additionally, the study presents and analyses the groups noted above (with reference to their context). It then assesses areas of impact of the groups and concludes with summarizing Bahrain’s measures on how to curtail these groups and their Iranian backers.