Iranian Power Projection in the Persian Gulf

Stratfor Global Intelligence Security Report

A report emerged today in the Iranian press that a group of humanitarian activists would take part in a flotilla that would set sail May 16. Now this scenario should sound familiar. Last June when a group of Turkish humanitarian activists attempted to send a flotilla to Gaza, Israeli commandos boarded the ship, killing nine civilians and sparking a major diplomatic crisis.

Analyst Reva Bhalla explains the constraints and opportunities Iran faces in trying to expand influence in the Persian Gulf region.

A similar scenario playing out in energy-vital Persian Gulf region would carry much more severe implications. In the Gaza situation you had the receiving party, the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, welcoming the flotilla. In this case you would have the Bahraini government, the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council], not to mention the U.S. Fifth Fleet highly resistant to an Iranian ship trying to dock on Bahraini shores. So why would Iran be supporting this aid flotilla?

We have to remember that Iran is facing a historic opportunity in the region, specifically in the Persian Gulf region. While Iran’s focus remains on filling a power vacuum in Iraq once U.S. forces withdraw from there, the North African unrest provided Iran with a very useful opportunity to create a destabilization campaign against its Sunni Arab rivals in the eastern Arabian region. Iran of course ran into a lot of constraints in this process and this is not exactly something new.

Throughout its history, Iran has had a lot of trouble trying to project influence in the Shiite-majority areas in eastern Arabia. Largely that’s a function of geography. If you take the example of Bahrain, which is really the flashpoint in the current crisis, Bahrain is majority Shiite country ruled by a Sunni royal family. Now, Bahrain is an island that demographically works in the Iranians favor, but it’s a natural extension of the Arabian Peninsula, so it’s very difficult for Iran to maintain a stakehold against roaming Sunni tribes throughout history. Iran instead had to rely heavily on religion and business links primarily to maintain that stakehold but that is really a function of why Bahrain would flip back and forth between Sunni and Shia powers throughout history. Fast forward to the Bahrain crisis of 2011 and it really didn’t take long for the Saudi-led GCC forces to come into Bahrain and ensure that the island would remain in Sunni hands. This is also why the Sunni states made a very rare showing of unity and countering the Iranian threat.

So Iran may not have been entirely successful this time in trying to overthrow Bahrain and power the Shia in eastern Arabia and put in jeopardy vital U.S. military installations in the region, but it also has time working on its side. While Iran remains very focused on Iraq, it understands very well that the grievances of the Shia are being exacerbated in Bahrain by the continued GCC presence on the island and by the continued crackdowns on the Shia in the wider region. In addition to acting as the true defender of the Shia not only in Bahrain but in the broader community, Iran also presents itself as the alternative to the corrupt Arab despots who are the target of ire in much of this part of the region. Iran also adds an additional layer in acting as the vanguard of the Islamic resistance which not only includes Shiite groups like Hezbollah and also very prominent Sunni Islamist groups like Hamas in the Palestinian territories. Iran on the one hand has a strategic need to show that it can supply more than just rhetoric in defending the Shia, but the geopolitical dynamics of the region are also working in Iran’s favor. Whether or not this flotilla actually sails will be an important test of Iranian resolve.

4 responses to “Iranian Power Projection in the Persian Gulf

  1. they just ran their ship last time as a test run..the real deal is coming up…

  2. Time for Israel to grow a spine and sink the infiltrators.

  3. Justin Eckstein

    We all have our own separate Beliefs, founded in various religions, because we are individuals. It only makes sense that a situation such as this would produce various ways to praise OUR HEAVENLY FATHER, the Creator. I think my Beliefs are correct as much as you do yours. Common sense.
    “Everyone thinks he’s right. And some of us are so convinced that we’re even willing to fight to the death for what we believe. And with all that conviction, sincere as it may be, we keep digging ourselves in, and making that [hole] deeper and deeper, because in the final analysis, if everyone is right, then no one is right.
    So what’s the answer? Don’t be so sure of your beliefs. Don’t be so quick to jump to your belief, because what you believe may not be as true as you first thought. Have the courage to filter your beliefs through the filter of common sense. Don’t take your preconceived beliefs and try to justify them rationally. Instead, use rationality to come to your beliefs . . . And whatever doesn’t make sense, have the sense to let it go. . . And if we don’t get our heads straight, it will only get worse.” -Nissim Dahan
    I do not want to force anyone to believe as I do. Then it would not be your will, it would be my will. I accept Jesus Christ as my Savior. You may not. Whether you choose to believe or not is your decision, not mine. I have put my ’Beliefs’ through the ’Filter of Common Sense.’ Have You? We all are not going to have the same convictions about ‘Divinity‘, the same religion, or even the same beliefs about a common religion. Wanting to kill someone because they do not believe as I do, on anything, is not good. I should have the patience and tolerance to accept the fact we do not agree. Common sense.
    Furthermore, there are bad elements in every religion, culture, and nation. I can not say one religion, culture, or nation is bad because of some and not all. Thus, not all Muslims are bad when a few do wrong; not all Christians are bad when a few do wrong; not all Middle-Easterners are bad when a few do wrong; not all Americans are bad when a few do wrong; etcetera. Plus I can not blame the people for what their government does. We all, worldwide, have bad politicians, bad bureaucrats, and bad military leaders. And the same is true as before. All are not to be blamed for the actions of some. Common sense.
    So what is the answer? I personally agree we must stop ‘Extremism.’ Such things as killing, fighting to the death, and forcing your will upon others are extreme. Islam is the ‘Religion of Peace.’ But beating people or killing them for ’honor’ are not peaceful actions. Fighting and killing to force your will upon others are not peaceful actions. Flying a jumbo jet into a skyscraper, or done twice, or any other building, and killing thousands of people in the process is not peaceful. Careful Islam, I think there is a ‘poisonous snake in the grass.’ Common Sense.
    I also personally agree with the ‘Golden Rule’ which should be, in my opinion, followed by everyone:
    “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” -Jesus Christ
    If you like something done to or for you, then do it for someone else. They will, most likely, also like it. If you do not like something done to you, then do not do it to someone else. They will, most likely, also not like it. Common Sense.
    We all will not agree on everything; we must accept that situation. So let people decide for themselves what is currently best for themselves. If someone wants to do something that does not affect you, and does not support extremism, then let them do it. You may not agree with what they are doing , but let them. OUR HEAVENY FATHER obviously does not want to control us. I believe we must follow that example. Do not force your will on someone else. Not advocating hedonism, let their will decide what is best for them. Common sense.
    I’m not forcing my will on you. Why are you forcing your’s on me? May OUR HEAVENLY FATHER’s Will Be Done.

    • You miss the point and don’t get Islam my friend. Islam want’s and will force itself and Sharia on the world if it is not stopped. Re: All Muslims are not bad because a “few” Muslims do wrong???? Where are the moderate Muslims speaking out about the alleged death of Osama bin Laden. Turn the other cheek and these bastards will cut your arm off. Wake up my friend time to smell the coffee.

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