Bahrain’s Shia sect comprises around 70% of the country’s Muslim population, making them a significant demographic group. They have long-standing religious ties with Iran, which leaves the ruling family of Bahrain, who belongs to the Sunni minority, in a vulnerable position.

Iran has used sectarianism to foment unrest and threaten the ruling family, resulting in years of anti-government protests in Bahrain between 2011 and 2014. These protests could not halted without the intervention of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates through the Peninsula Shield Force, the military arm of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Despite the animosity between Bahrain’s royal family and the Iranian regime, it appears that the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement brokered by China will influence Bahrain to follow the Saudi lead.

Rayan Mauro, a Washington D.C. security analyst who spoke to ALL ARAB NEWS, stated that improved ties between Bahrain and Iran has the potential to stymie the momentum towards peace.

“From Bahrain’s perspective, an improvement in ties with Iran might end Iran’s support for subversive elements inside Bahrain. As a Shiite-majority population with Sunni rulers, subversive Iranian influence is a major concern. What we don’t know is what Iran will get in return. What is Iran getting from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and potentially other Arab countries? It is still unclear.”

“The big question is whether this is just a lowering of hostilities or if the deal is a true regional realignment,” noted Mauro. “It is possible that an understanding has been reached regarding Yemen and Syria, but a large gap between the Arab countries and Iran still exists.”

Mauro believes that Iran will consider Bahrain and Saudi Arabia enemies because of their close ties to the U.S. and the “unavoidable rivalry between Sunnis and radical Shiites.”

The speaker of Bahrain’s parliament has welcomed an Iranian delegation, calling for the two countries’ relations to be expanded at various government and parliamentary levels.

In an interview with ALL ARAB NEWS, President of the Scandinavian Gulf Institute Abdul Jalil Al-Saeid commented that “this parliamentary visit is unprecedented, especially given Iran’s role in fomenting sectarianism in Bahrain.”

Al-Saeid also pointed to the potential impact of the Saudi-Iranian reconciliation, which he believes will give other Gulf countries more leeway in reconciling with Iran, indicating a possible shift in the region’s political alliances.

The shift in the region and getting China to broker these types of deals for the first time can be attributed to the Biden administration, which has focused on reviving the nuclear deal with Iran and has removed Houthi rebels from the list of foreign terrorist organizations.

This action has enraged its Arabian Peninsula allies – who have been targeted by Al Houthis on numerous occasions – and alarmed Arab nations, prompting them to turn to China and normalize relations with Iran before the U.S. does.

It is understandable that Israel is concerned about the possibility of a rapprochement between Bahrain and Iran, especially given that Bahrain was a signatory to the Abrahamic peace agreement in 2020, known as the Abraham Accords.

However, given the demographic situation in Bahrain, this recently announced rapprochement will not necessarily mean friendship. Iran’s continued policy of supporting Shiite militias in Arab countries such as Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen, will remain a factor that worries Bahrain and brings it closer to Israel.

This rapprochement will be more likely serve to avoid any Iranian attempts to destabilize Bahrain, and Iran may benefit from it in front of the Iranian people to demonstrate that the Gulf states have begun to normalize relations.

As a result, the Saudi-Iranian reconciliation, while benefiting Iran’s domestic consumption, will not likely result in a significant shift in Bahrain’s policy toward Israel.

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