Tuesday, March 22, 2011

U.A.E. To The Rescue

How is the US going to square the circle of involvement in Libya but not in the far more strategically important Bahrain? While the thrust of the following WSJ article is in one direction (why the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) is not engaged militarily in Libya), the real value lies in the fact that the U.A.E. has provided a way for the US to avoid the hypocrisy of involvement in Libya but not Bahrain: blame it on Iran.

From today's WSJ:

Former U.A.E. Official Blames U.S., EU for Libyan Pullout

"ABU DHABI—The United Arab Emirates was prepared to deploy 24 aircraft to help enforce a no-fly zone over Libya but decided not to participate in the allied effort because of U.S. and European policies towards Bahrain, the former commander-in-chief of the U.A.E. Air Force said Tuesday.

"The U.A.E. was willing, and there were preparations, to deploy a significant number of aircraft for the no-fly zone, but a re-prioritization—specifically the European and U.S. positions on Bahrain—did not satisfy the Gulf states to this end," said Maj. General Khalid Al Buainnain.

The U.A.E. had been prepared to deploy two squadrons of 12 aircraft each to Libya, Mr. Buainnain, said on the sidelines of a conference in Abu Dhabi.

Mr. Buainnain said the U.S. and Europe had failed to appreciate the extent of Iran's interference in the Gulf countries, and had misread the protests in Bahrain as a spill over of calls for democratic change sweeping through the region.

"What's going on in Bahrain is much beyond our Western allies [ability] to understand," he said. "It is a complete conspiracy of the Iranians in the region...The European and U.S. positions are unable to imagine the extent of Iranian intervention in Bahrain."

"It's a matter of political disagreement—not a matter of resources—between the Gulf states and the Europe and U.S.," Mr. Buainnain said. "The position of the Europeans, especially the United States, towards Bahrain—really, this is something that is very scary, and it's not encouraging," he said.

Mr. Buannain didn't specify which policies the U.A.E. objected to. But the U.S. warned against the use of violence during the recent crackdown on protesters in Bahrain, and urged both sides to reach a negotiated solution.

On Sunday, Qatar became the first Arab nation to join international action against Libya's Col. Moammar Gadhafi, saying it was sending fighter jets to Libya to help enforce the U.N. resolution calling for an international military intervention to impose a no-fly zone over the country.

There has been speculation that the U.A.E. would send military assistance as well, though late Monday the country said it is playing a purely humanitarian role in Libya by delivering aid supplies. The U.A.E.'s role is "strictly confined to the delivery of humanitarian assistance," according to a statement carried on the state news agency.

The U.A.E had taken a leading role in the calls for action in Libya, hosting a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Abu Dhabi on March 7 at which the six-member bloc of Gulf Arab nations urged the international community to enforce a no-fly zone.

The U.A.E. Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn't immediately return requests for comment Tuesday.

Bahrain's Sunni ruling family has for more than a month battled protests led by its largely-Shiite opposition, leading King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to declare a three-months state of emergency amid rising sectarian tensions on the Gulf island kingdom.

Last week, Saudi Arabia and other GCC states including the U.A.E., sent security forces to Bahrain to help quell the ongoing protests. Soon after the Gulf troops arrived, Bahrain launched a violent crackdown on the antigovernment protesters, clearing them from the capital's financial district and the Pearl roundabout, imposing a curfew and banning all public gatherings.

On Monday, Bahrain's King Hamad said a foreign plot against his state had been foiled—presumed to be a reference to Iran—and thanked troops brought in from neighboring Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. to help keep security. Iran has condemned the arrival of foreign troops in Bahrain.

Mr. Buainnain said the U.A.E considered Bahrain's security "an extension" of its own security, and sees it as a top priority. He also said Bahrain risked turning into a third center of Shiite extremism in the Arab world, in addition to the presence of Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthi group in Yemen.

His comments follow warnings by GCC Secretary General Abdel Rahman bin Hamad Al Attiyah Monday, at the same conference, that the Gulf states reject any foreign intervention in their affairs, including by Iran.

Mr. Buainnain, a former U.A.E. fighter pilot who rose to head the air force, retired in 2006. He is now president of the Dubai-based security think-tank, the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis."

*Note: bold and italics emphasis added above

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