The "Oil War" in the Persian Gulf

The bombing of the oil pipeline near the Bahraini Capital of Manama, which is widely attributed to Iran, can be considered a threatening message to both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Analysis by Col. (res.) Dr. Shaul Shay

Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, Bahrain Minister of Interior, during his visit to the scene of the explosion (Photo: AP)

An explosion ripped through the oil pipeline near the village of Buri some 15 kilometers from the capital of Bahrain, Manama, on November 10, 2017. An oil fire broke out on Bahrain's only pipeline from Saudi Arabia, temporarily halting oil supplies from its neighbor. No one was injured in the explosion, and there was no claim of responsibility for it. Evidence gathered by the inspection team confirmed that this was an intentional act undertaken by terrorists.

Bahrain relies on the Abu Safa oilfield for the majority of its oil. It shares the field with Saudi Arabia. Oil to Bahrain is transported via the 55-km-long pipeline which has a capacity of 230,000 barrels per day (bpd).

Bahrain's National oil company BAPCO had turned off the flow of oil and emergency services brought the blaze under control. Bahrain’s Minister of Interior explained that Civil Defense dealt with the fire from the very first moment and was able to control it in record time. The fire service also evacuated homes in the nearby village of Buri. BAPCO later fixed the pipeline and resumed the flow of oil into the country.

Chief of Public Security Maj. Gen. Tariq al-Hassan announced on November 16, 2017, that Bahraini security forces thwarted terrorist attacks against three oil pipelines and public figures in the kingdom, noting that disclosing the plot was prior to targeting the Saudi-Bahraini pipeline next to Buri.

The terrorist cell included five members, led by Qassim al-Muamen, fugitive in Iran and sentenced to life-imprisonment – Muamen's nationality is also revoked. He revealed confiscating arms’ cargoes and ready-to-use explosives, and the fact that terrorist cells members in Bahrain received training in creating improvised explosive devices and were provided required materials for them.

Bahrain Accuses Iran

Bahrain's interior minister, Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa, said in a statement that the blast was "the latest example of a terrorist act performed by terrorists in direct contact with and under instruction from Iran."

Bahrain's Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa later said that the explosion had targeted a pipeline running between his country and the neighboring Saudi Arabia. This "is a dangerous Iranian escalation aimed at terrorizing citizens and damaging the world's oil industry," the minister posted on Twitter.

Iran has rejected the claims it was involved in the oil pipeline blast, calling the allegations "baseless and cheap."

In Yemen, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the chief of the supreme revolutionary committee of the Iranian-backed Houthi militias has threatened that giant oil facilities in Saudi Arabia will be among the major targets of their "capable missiles."

Saudi Arabia’s energy ministry said on November 11, 2017, that it was stepping up security precautions at its own facilities.

Saudi Ambassador to Bahrain Dr. Abdullah bin Abdulmalik Al Al-Shaikh has strongly condemned and denounced the terrorist bombing attack on the oil pipeline.

"The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is in full solidarity with the sisterly Kingdom of Bahrain and supports all the measures Bahrain takes to preserve its security and stability," he said. "Our huge trust rests in the Kingdom of Bahrain's security agencies and their capability to pursue the culprits and perpetrators of this criminal act and to bring them to court justice."

Ambassador Al Al-Shaikh affirmed that the Kingdom of Bahrain's security is an integral and inseparable part of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's security, adding that anything that affects the Kingdom of Bahrain affects his country.

Egypt also condemned the terrorist attack on the oil pipeline, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Egypt asserted that its government and people stand by the Bahraini government and people against all terrorist and destructive actions that target their security and stability.

Egypt's foreign minister Sameh Shoukry arrived in Manama on November 12, 2017, and discussed recent regional developments with Bahrain's King Hamed. Shoukry delivered a message to King Hamed from President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi conveying Egypt's views about recent regional developments and their impact on the stability of Arab countries.

Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Dr. Abdullateef Al-Zayani has also strongly condemned the intentional blast that targeted an oil pipeline. Al-Zayani described it as a dangerous terrorist crime that exposes the higher interests of Bahrain to danger and terrorizes the peaceful citizens of Bahrain and its expatriates. He said that this is a serious development in the method of carrying out criminal acts by terrorist organizations receiving directives and support from Iran.

Summary

Bahrain relies on the Abu Safa field, which it shares with neighboring Saudi Arabia, for much of its oil, pumped in via a 230,000-barrel-per-day pipeline. The bombing of the pipeline can be considered as a threatening message to both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

A new 350,000-barrels-per-day oil pipeline between the two countries will be completed next year and will serve the planned expansion of Bahrain’s refinery capacity. Arabian Light crude oil will flow from Saudi Aramco’s Abqaiq plant via the new 115-km pipeline, 73 km of which will run overland and the rest under the Gulf.

The Bahraini government has often accused Iran of meddling in its internal affairs. On September 10, 2015, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed al-Khalifa urged Iran to refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of other countries and said the Islamic Republic should stop what he described as "dualism" between its language and actions. He also called on Iran to revise its foreign policy.

There is nothing new in Iran’s subversive activity in various Middle Eastern countries aimed at exporting the Iranian Islamic revolution. The Arab Spring and the collapse of the old regional order, as well as the "nuclear deal," have reinforced and accelerated this activity.

Iran is exploiting the Arab regimes’ weakness, along with the decline of US influence and power projection in the region during the Obama administration to aggressively promote its agenda, which centers on strengthening the Shia element in the Arab countries. The main change in Iran’s policy is that its senior officials no longer fear to voice Iran’s real intentions and have become open, blunt, and defiant in doing so.

Bahrain is a member of the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthi rebels in Yemen, backed by Iran. Bahrain recalled its ambassador from Iran on October 2, 2015, a day after it said its security forces had discovered a large bomb-making factory and arrested a number of suspects linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guards.

Saudi Arabia is engaged in a region-wide struggle for power and influence with Iran, a struggle that, in turn, reflects the Sunni-Shia schism across the Muslim world. Saudi Arabia is accusing Iran of fueling unrest among Shias across the region, including among Saudi Arabia’s own 10% Shia minority. The internal conflict in Bahrain is part of the power struggle (the "Great Game") between the regional powers, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

President Trump's administration is determined to counter Tehran’s expanding influence in the Middle East and to reassure US allies that Washington will take their concerns about Iran’s foreign policy more seriously.

The internal turmoil in Bahrain is far from over, but with the Trump administration’s support for the al-Khalifa family, the rulers of Bahrain will be able to confront the Shia insurgency backed by Iran.

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