Cablegate: Scenesetter for General Petraeus’ Visit to Bahrain

Published: Fri 25 Jul 2008 06:06 PM
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SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR GENERAL PETRAEUS’ VISIT TO BAHRAINClassified By: Charge d’Affaires a.i. Christopher Henzel for reasons 1. 4 (b) and (d)
1. (S) General Petraeus, Embassy Manama and the Bahraini leadership look forward to welcoming you back to Bahrain. Following on Secretary Rice’s dinner in Abu Dhabi with GCC-plus 3 officials July 21, and at a time when many in the Gulf are speculating about the trajectory of the tensions over Iran’s nuclear program, your visit will further reassure the Bahrainis of America’s commitment to regional security. You may also wish to note Bahrain’s designation of an Ambassador to Iraq, and encourage the GOB to follow through smartly.
2. (S) You will find the leadership focused first on defending against potential Iranian missile threats, but also on the return of Navy dependents, and coastal radar upgrades. Multilateral air and maritime defense initiatives remain a subject of steady follow-up with the Bahrainis since Secretary Gates’ meetings with regional Chiefs of Staff in Bahrain in December 2007, and the Gulf Air Chiefs conference that General North convened in Bahrain in June, 2008.
3. (S) On the political side, the Bahraini leadership is following very closely media speculation about potential scenarios for military confrontation with Iran. Regional tensions may be adding to long-standing domestic tensions as well, contributing to the stridency of sectarian voices in Bahrain. The majority of Bahraini citizens are part of the Shi’a underclass, and their grievances, expressed both in legal political activity and in street skirmishes between youths and police, are at the center of all domestic politics here.
Missile Defense and Regional Cooperation
4. (S) Bahrain’s national security strategy rests squarely on the presence here of NAVCENT/Fifth Fleet headquarters and Bahrain’s close security partnership with the U.S. Unlike its Gulf neighbors, Bahrain does not enjoy the kind of oil revenues that might enable it to buy advanced weaponry on its own. U.S. foreign military financing for Bahrain this year was only $3.9 million. State, with DoD support, is pressing for an increase in the next budget.
5. (S) The top security priority for Bahrain’s leadership is missile defense. King Hamad told Secretary Gates on March 26 that Bahrain has assessed the need for several complete Patriot batteries to cover the island. He said that that he hoped the U.S. would provide one, while Bahrain would buy or lease others (though in our view this would be a stretch for Bahrain’s budget.) A Patriot firing unit temporarily deployed to Bahrain in May as part of the annual GCC military exercise Eagle Resolve, and most of its equipment remains here in storage. We understand OSD is examining a number of options for providing a longer-term solution, including re-deployment to the region of Patriot units currently based elsewhere, as well as the periodic deployment of SM-2 and SM-3 equipped AEGIS cruisers.
6. (S) DoD has launched a number of initiatives to develop multilateral air and maritime defense capabilities. In February, NAVCENT hosted a Maritime Infrastructure Symposium which was attended by representatives from the GCC and some NATO countries. On 22-23 June, the Commander of Air Force Central Command, LTG North, met in Bahrain with Air Chiefs from the GCC plus Jordan to develop a way ahead for shared early warning and regional, mutual air defense.
Coastal Defense and Maritime Security
7. (S) The Government of Bahrain is concerned about its vulnerability to maritime threats such as drug trafficking, terrorism and subversion. Enhancing coastal defense and maritime security is a priority second only to missile defense. The Ministry of Interior has embarked on an ambitious program to enhance the counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics capabilities of its Coast Guard Special Units. We have seen considerable commitment and improvement.
8. (S) For this reason, and in view of the low FMF levels of recent years, the Embassy strongly supports a NAVCENT-initiated Section 1206 funded proposal to upgrade Bahrain’s Coastal Surveillance Radar. The proposal did not
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receive funding through the Section 1206 program this year, but will be submitted again in 2009. If approved, this proposal would significantly improve Bahrain’s maritime security capability and send a strong message of support to the government at a time of steep reductions in FMF and IMET funding. Under this proposal the Bahrain Navy will receive new equipment that will augment the system already owned by the Bahrain Coast Guard. The picture will be shared with the Bahrain Coast Guard, Bahrain Military Intelligence, and the U.S. Navy. The radar picture can potentially be shared with other countries in the region.
Royal Bahrain Navy
9. (S) From 4 March through 5 June, the Commander of the Royal Bahrain Navy (RBN), Brigadier Al Mansoori, took command of Combined Task Force (CTF) 152, the coalition maritime force that patrols the central and southern Arabian Gulf. This was the first time a Gulf state commanded a coalition naval operation, and we understand Brigadier Al Mansoori’s role may inspire others in the Gulf to take a turn in command of a CTF as well. The RBN would welcome an opportunity to command this task force again.
U.S. Navy Dependents
10. (S) The dependents of the NAVCENT personnel in Bahrain were sent home in summer 2004 in reaction to what DoD viewed as an inadequate GOB response to the discovery of a potentially violent group of Sunni extremists on the island. The Embassy’s assessment differed and its dependents remained. Since then, the GOB has improved its counter-terrorism performance, and both NAVCENT and the Embassy have been advocating for the return of Navy dependents.
11. (S) The Crown Prince is a strong advocate for the people-to-people contacts fostered by having Navy families in Bahrain. He views this as important to maintaining domestic support -- especially among the Bahraini elites who have traditionally sent children to the DoD Bahrain School -- for his strategy of alignment with the U.S. The Crown Prince is, himself, a graduate of the Bahrain School; his eldest son graduated from the school in June, and another son is still attending.
12. (S) President Bush and Secretary Gates told the King during their March meetings in Washington that Navy dependents would begin returning soon. Unfortunately, this still hasn’t happened. The Embassy’s understanding is that DoD is currently considering authorizing a return of spouses.
Nuclear Cooperation
13. (C) On March 26, the U.S. and Bahrain signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Nuclear Energy Cooperation, as well as a statement of support for the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. Bahrain has also been invited to participate in the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership.
Internal Issues
14. (C) Over the past two months the King has departed from his traditional detached style and intervened personally in several controversies arising from Bahrain’s Shi’a-Sunni tensions. He has publicly, both personally and through his ministers, summoned communal leaders, newspaper editors and bloggers to warn them against crossing red lines against discussion of issues like royal family disputes and criticism of judges who have sentenced Shi’a rioters to prison terms.
15. (S) Within the Sunni minority there are several pockets of extremism, which the Bahraini authorities appear to be monitoring closely. In June, police detained a Bahraini who has since been charged with being in contact with a “banned group”, i.e. al Qaeda. U.S. and Bahraini security services worked together productively on this case.
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16. (S) As the smallest Gulf state, Bahrain has historically needed closer security ties with a western patron than any of its neighbors. As a result, the U.S. Navy has As a result, the U.S. Navy has had a presence here since the closing days of the second world war. As General Mansoori’s command of CTF 152 demonstrates, we can use our close security ties with Bahrain to continue pushing the envelope for GCC-U.S. security cooperation.
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