Bahrain, Peninsula Shield Force, Saudi-Arabia-Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Benghazi Government, New (Western) No-Fly Zone Coalition
Bahrain: On 18 March, the Army demolished the 300-foot monument in a central roundabout in Manama that had become a symbol of the Shiite protest movement.
The monument consisted of six white curved beams topped by a huge cement pearl, whence the roundabout received the name Pearl Square. The structure was built as a monument to Bahrain’s history as a pearl-diving center, but became associated with the protests. Foreign Minister, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, told reporters in Manama that the army brought down the monument because “it was a bad memory.”
At a press conference, Khalid said, “We are not waging war, we are restoring law and order.” He claimed that security and stability have been restored in the country after a “terrorist plot” had been “enacted.” He said that the plot had “well-known extensions and methods” which had been seen in other places in the region. Iran is interfering in the internal affairs of Bahrain, he said.
Khalid said that a number of parties reacted positively to a call for dialogue, but that seven unnamed parties placed obstacles. Some groups started creating chaos and fear among citizens, attacking citizens in schools, setting road blocks and using different types of weapons and knives against citizens and security personnel.
Comment: This is the official Bahrain version of the Saudi narrative. It might be accurate, but it would be more persuasive to international audiences were Bahrain to produce in public credible evidence to back it up, instead of accusations.
Several thousand Shia protested in the Bahraini town of Diraz following Friday prayers. Before the demonstration began, thousands had gathered to listen to the Friday sermon of Bahraini senior Shia cleric Sheikh Issa Qassem, who said people demanding rights and reform do not believe in the violence the Bahraini authorities are inflicting upon them.
Comment: Protests are banned under the state of emergency decree. With the help of the Shield Force, the monarchy has secured the financial district. The instability is not ended by any measure. The monarchy intends to control the political reform process, but its offers of dialogue are blessings of the King that are inherently revocable. They do not signify that the monarch recognizes that its citizens have inherent rights. The Instability recycles because the monarchy is stuck in a medieval mindset..
Peninsula Shield Force: Qatari troops are members of the Peninsula Shield Forces that intervened in Bahrain. Their duty is to contribute in restoring order and security, Qatari Colonel Abdullah al-Hajri said. This is the first official confirmation of Qatar’s contribution to the intervention force, Qatar News Agency reported 18 March. Al-Harjri said all Qatari forces in Bahrain are under the orders of the Peninsula Shield Force.
The last group of troops from the United Arab Emirates arrived 18 March in Bahrain, BNA reported. The number of Shield Forces that are deployed is not known. The Shield Force is authorized 10,000 men, contributed by all members of the Gulf Cooperation Council and organized into 2 all-arms brigades. It appears that the major elements of one of those brigades are now in Bahrain, with Saudi forces making up the bulk of the force.
Saudi Arabia-Iran: Diplomatic sources said a recent letter from Saudi Arabia to Iran warned Tehran against interfering in Bahrain, according to the Lebanese daily Al Jumhuriya. The letter, delivered by a Syrian envoy, said Bahrain security has a direct impact on Saudi security. Saudi Arabia also said it does not want to see a Hezbollah response or any Hezbollah operations in Bahrain.
Comment: These are the core allegations of the Saudi narrative. The significance is the Arab Kings have decided to police the Arab world against the Persians and their proxies.
Saudi Arabia: King Abdallah announced on 18 March that security forces will “hit” those who undermine the kingdom’s security and stability and promulgated several decrees. These included the establishment of an anti-corruption body; 60,000 new jobs at the Interior Ministry; promotions for all military personnel; media must respect Islamic clerics; the establishment of fatwa centers throughout the kingdom; and the establishment of a higher Islamic authority within five months.
Comment: The decrees contain no reforms, only bribes to various constituencies. The creation of 60,000 jobs has the merit of matching one of the main grievances of discontented Arab youth, the lack of jobs. It is not clear that Saudi youth will take advantage of the King’s generosity or that Shiites will be permitted to apply.
Security. Ten or so Saudi Shiite protesters were injured in clashes with riot police in the eastern city of Amran, a local witness told press outlets, by police wielding batons. The witness also said around 2,500 people protested in Awamiya and 1,000 people each protested in Safwa and al-Rabeeya, in eastern Saudi Arabia.
Syria: Syrian security forces killed three protesters during an 18 March demonstration by some 3,000 people leaving the Omari mosque in the city of Deraa.
Comment: Any protests in Syria are worth noting and tracking. Most often, they represent a lapse in local security. As in the past when Hafez al Asad ruled Syria, his son and the Alawite generals will be equally ruthless in suppressing any threat to the sectarian minority – the Alawites — that governs Syria and dominates the leadership of the Syrian Army. Any hesitation or reluctance to shoot protestors would be highly significant and highly unlikely.
Yemen: On 18 March, President Saleh declared a state of emergency across the country in response to multiple large scale protests in Sana’a and other towns.
Saleh said on Friday that the decision to impose the state of emergency for 30 days was made by the country’s national security council. Saleh said that it was clear that there were “armed elements” amongst anti-government protesters, and that the clashes earlier in the day were between citizens and protesters, not protesters and security forces
At least 46 people were killed and 200 injured by government security forces and snipers during anti-government protests on 18 March. One medic called the attack a “massacre”. Interior Minister Mutahar al-Masri reported 25 deaths, however. The government is considering a curfew and other measures to avoid a further escalation of the conflict, al-Masri added.
The Yemeni opposition said there is no possibility of a mutual understanding with the government after today’s deaths by government snipers and security forces. Opposition head Yassin Noman condemned the killings and said President Ali Abdullah Saleh had no choice but to step down.
Comment: The government is following the Bahrain solution, but without the help of the Peninsular Shield Force.
Libya: Despite the announcement of a ceasefire on 18 March, news services reported Qadhafi’s forces continued to move and fight their way towards Benghazi, according to an anonymous US national security official. The official said the advance was “purposeful,” apparently meaning that it portended an attack on Benghazi.
Fighting and shelling also were reported at Misrata and east of Ajdabiya, at the town of As-Zuwaytinah, which lies between Ajdabiya and Benghazi. A correspondent reported the sound of constant bombing, with Libyan aircraft seen over the town. There are also unconfirmed reports that the Libyan navy has taken up aggressive positions just off the coast of the town.
Tripoli government actions
Deputy Foreign Minister Khalend Kaim told the press that Libya has had no bombardments of any kind since the cease-fire was declared. He said the Libyan air force has been grounded to comply with the U.N.-sanctioned no-fly zone.
Foreign Minister Mussa Khusa said his country supports the U.N. Security Council resolution regarding protection of civilians and territorial unity of Libya, and is open to dialogue on unity. The foreign minister also said that the no-fly zone will “increase the suffering of the Libyan people” and will impact daily life.
Benghazi government actions
Unidentified leading rebel persons said that pilots belonging to the Libyan forces joined the revolutionaries and carried out air strikes against security battalions near Benghazi. Major General Abd-al-Fattah Yunus, head of the revolutionaries’ military council, asserted that Benghazi will not fall.
Rebels also are coordinating with Western nations on the targets for air strikes against Qadhafi forces. A rebel spokesman said that some places for international bodies to take action have already been specified.
Comment: Open source reports indicate the ceasefire announcement was a ruse to disrupt international deliberations. Qadhafi’s forces apparently attempted to make a final push against rebel positions during the confusion, but failed. The charade failed to disrupt, confuse or slow the international alliance.
The New Coalition
France called for a summit among the Arab League, the African Union and the European Union to take place in Paris on 19 March. The list of participants has not yet been finalized and it is expected that not every representative of these institutions will attend, according to a statement from the French presidential office. France is in the lead.
Canada: The government announced it will send 6 CF-18 fighters to help enforce the UN Resolution.
Spain: Defense Minister Carme Chacon said on 18 March that Spain will make the airbases in Rota and Moron available to the forces enforcing the no-fly zone. Speaking during a ceremony marking the centenary of Spanish military aviation, he said Spain’s responsibility is to the Libyan people and that their hope was from the “air.”
United Kingdom: British Prime Minister David Cameron said the UN-sanctioned military operation against Libya was solely about civilian protection and was not an authorization for the occupation of Libya. He said military aircraft including Tornado and Typhoon attack aircraft as well as air-refueling and surveillance aircraft are being prepared.
According to unconfirmed reports, two British Tornado squadrons will be committed to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya, BBC reported. Squadron 9 specializes in taking out surface-to-air missiles, while Squadron 31 specializes in launching the Storm Shadow cruise missile, which targets artillery and tanks. United Kingdom will fly jets from their bases in Cyprus and will be enforcing the no-fly zone over eastern Libya
Qatar: Qatari Mirage 2000-5 jets will be flying from air bases in Sicily. Qatar has 12 French-made fighters.
Egypt has ruled out using its bases to implement the no-fly zone, but is willing to sell arms to the rebels. Several truck loads of weapons arrived in Benghazi from Egypt on 18 March.
Belgium: European Affairs Minister Chastel told the press that Belgium will contribute six F-16 fighters and a frigate to the UN-sanctioned no-fly zone operation over Libya.
Italy: In a reversal of its earlier public position, Italy is now reportedly prepared to contribute both military air bases and aircraft for the implementation of the UN-sanctioned no-fly zone over Libya. Italy will make seven airbases available to participating combat aircraft. Airstrikes against Libya will be launched from military bases in Corsica and Sicily, Al Arabiya reported.
Denmark: Defense Minister Bech said the Danes will send six F-16 fighters and a military transport aircraft to participate in the U.N.-sanctioned no-fly zone over Libya. She said the Danish fighter aircraft will be in the air by 6:00 a.m. 19 March and that she expects the international action to begin this weekend.
The Netherlands: Dutch Foreign Minister Rosenthal said The Netherlands will join any military operation against Libya and its contribution will take whatever form the international community requests. Rosenthal said no consensus on Dutch aid has been reached, adding Dutch contributions could range from the use of its military equipment to the delivery of logistical operational support.
Germany: Foreign Minister Westerwelle said the German government remains skeptical of military intervention in Libya and sees considerable risks and dangers. This is the reason Germany could not approve part of the United Nations resolution text. However, Germany later announced it might send more aircrews to Afghanistan to free US reconnaissance planes for operations over Libya.
Poland: The government announced it is ready to help with transport plans and will deploy some forces and resources for humanitarian aid, but will not play a military role in Libya. Defense Minister Bogdan Klich said Poland will not take part in the implementation of the no-fly zone with its armed forces.
Comment: A review of the various governments’ statements makes clear that all who are committing combat assets interpret the UN resolution as authorizing attacks against Libyan ground forces as well as enforcing a no-fly zone.
The no-fly zone is already effective, thanks to Qadhafi’s posturing. He appears to have grounded his aircraft and closed Libyan airspace. However, a ceasefire for ground forces is not in effect because Libyan civilians have been killed and wounded since its announcement. The hubris of the Qadhafi clan will be its undoing.
While most international media attention is devoted to the problems of enforcing the no-fly zone, the governments have focused on the “all necessary means to protect civilians” provision of the Resolution. Most of the news-as-entertainment media and most of the talking-head commentators have missed the point that the coalition is enforcing the totality of the UN Resolution. The no-fly zone is not the primary concern and the governments have known that all along. Thus, comments that the no-fly zone is too late are misinformed and should be ignored.
Readers should expect coalition air attacks against Libyan ground forces to protect civilians in rebel towns over the weekend. The preparations for such attacks appear far advanced.
The French and British appear to have the lead in this coalition, helped by the fact that all contributing nations fly British, French or American fighters, which simplifies logistics. The US is not leading, but is supporting the effort. The French said there is no need for NATO involvement, referring to the alliance.
The command and control structure of this new combat command is not yet clear, in public reporting, but the French Italians, Spanish and British seem to know what they are doing. The US is an old hand with coalition coordination. With Arab participation and no obvious US command leadership, this coalition is something new in recent history.
Phi Beta Iota: According to one Saudi, Shi’ites doe not get jobs in Saudi Arabia unless they are willing to lie about their faith, and in the case of government jobs, answer a questionnaire that requires them to blasphemy in writing against their faith.