Syria crisis sparks Iran strike fears
Manama, August 29, 2013
Iran could channel its response to Western military intervention in Syria through proxies in the Gulf, an expert has warned.
However, if that happened, it would be restricted to limited action that avoided extreme escalation, IHS Jane's Defence Weekly Middle East and Africa editor Jeremy Binnie was quoted as saying in the Gulf Daily News (GDN), our sister publication.
Reports suggest the US and its allies are gearing up for military strikes in Syria if the regime is found to have carried out an alleged chemical weapons attack last week.
Opposition activists claim at least 500 people were killed in a poison gas attack, which is now being investigated by United Nations (UN) inspectors.
Iran has warned against foreign military intervention against its allies in power in Syria - saying the resulting conflict would engulf the region.
"Personally, I think Iran is reluctant to escalate confrontation in the region," said Binnie. "If it does, it will be limited action rather than attacking US bases in the Gulf. It could use terrorist attacks without claiming responsibility for it, or perhaps use submarine operations to sabotage Bahrain's ports.”
"However, it would be surprising as this has surely been thought of by security officials in Manama and therefore security measures such as diver detection sonar would be in place."
He added that while Iran often made various threats, they were rarely realistic or delivered upon.
"It could perhaps support the Syrian government by providing more weapons to defend," he said. "In return, the Gulf would also have the option of supporting Syrian rebels and providing military support, like Saudi Arabia allowing air operations to be staged on its land."
IHS Country Risk Middle East analyst Firas Abi Ali also warned of possible protests by the Shi'ite community in Bahrain and potential attacks on Western targets.
"Iran is very likely to have cells on the island in anticipation of a strike against its own nuclear facilities," he said.
He added there was also the potential risk of attacks using Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in Qatar.
"Given the likely Qatari support for an intervention in Syria, there would be an increased risk of attacks against malls, hotels and other public places where foreigners congregate," he added.
"These would likely be intended to demonstrate the high cost of Qatari involvement in Syria and would therefore not cause large-scale property damage or a high casualty rate.
"The risk of larger, more sophisticated attacks, including against government targets, would be proportional to the duration of a campaign against Syria and the extent of damage it causes to Al Assad's ability to fight his enemies in the civil war."
Meanwhile, experts said any use of chemical weapons in Syria would not pose a health risk to people living in the Gulf.
Bahrain-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Middle East regional security co-operation senior fellow Michael Elleman described the threat to Bahrain from such weapons as "negligible".
"Most chemical weapons are non-persistent, meaning they evaporate and or deteriorate within days, if not hours," he said.
"Contamination is typically limited to the immediate vicinity in which they are used. Unless Bahrain's territory is attacked directly, the chemical weapons threat is negligible."
IHS Jane's Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear analyst Carl Dewey agreed, although he said ecosystems in the area directly affected could be damaged.
"There is a risk of residual contamination which could affect the ecosystem," he said. "It could be absorbed from the air with humidity and turned into rain which then is absorbed by the ground.”
"Of course, it all depends on the type and amount of the chemicals used in this situation, which can be a better determinant of such risk. It possibly will not affect humans in the region, but could affect the ecological system such as small insects."
Bahrain's Ambassador to Egypt and permanent representative to the Arab League Shaikh Rashid bin Abdulrahman Al Khalifa attended an extraordinary meeting on Syria on Monday.
"Arab League members met following the recent developments in the Syrian situation with the use of chemical weapons," he told the GDN. "There is an increasing worry about developments in the country.
"Members have called for the immediate end to bloodshed in Syria and for the international community to accept its responsibilities. All states are worried about the developments and the meeting sought to communicate a strong stance."
He said a meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers was due to be held in Cairo next week and Syria would be on top of its agenda. – TradeArabia News Service