Saudi-led intervention in Bahrain

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Saudi-led intervention in Bahrain
Part of Bahraini uprising of 2011, Arab Spring, and the Iran–Saudi Arabia proxy conflict
2011 Bahraini uprising - March (152).jpg
Hundreds of protesters denouncing the Saudi-led intervention in Bahrain in a march to the Saudi embassy in Manama on 15 March 2011
Date14 March 2011 – 4 July 2011[1]
(3 months, 2 weeks and 6 days)
(Minor police presence till March 2014)
Result Suppression of Bahraini opposition demonstrators with GCC support.[2]

Peninsula Shield Force

In support of:
Bahrain Bahraini opposition

Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf Peninsula Shield Force: 1,500 troops.[3]

show all (3)
Thousands of protesters
Casualties and losses

Bahrain 2 policemen killed
Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf Peninsula Shield Force: 2 policemen killed

show all (2)

2 protesters killed[4]

3 protesters arrested[5]

The Saudi-led intervention in Bahrain began on 14 March 2011 to assist the Bahraini government in suppressing an anti-government uprising in the country. The intervention came three weeks after the U.S. pressured Bahrain to withdraw its military forces from the streets.[6] As a decision by Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the intervention included sending 1,000 (1,200)[7] troops with vehicles from Saudi Arabia[6] at the invitation of the Al-Khalifa ruling family, marking the first time the GCC used such a collective military option for suppressing a revolt.[7][8]

Calling it both an occupation and a declaration of war, the Bahraini opposition pleaded for foreign help.[9][10] The intervention was precedented by the 1994 Saudi intervention in Bahrain.[11][12]


Bahrain protests began with the 14 February 2011 protest, mostly by the Shia Muslims making up the majority of Bahrain's population,[13] which faced immediate reaction from government.[14] The protests initially sought greater political freedom and equality for the majority Shia population,[15] and expanded to a call to end the monarchy of Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa[16] following a deadly night raid on 17 February 2011 against protesters at the Pearl Roundabout in Manama.[17][18]

Protesters blocked roads and their sheer numbers overwhelmed the Bahrain police. The government of Bahrain requested help from neighbouring countries.[19] On 14 March, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) agreed to deploy Peninsula Shield Force troops to Bahrain to secure key installations.[7][20]

Units involved[edit]

GCC responded to the request from Bahrain's Al-Khalifa by sending its Peninsula Shield Force.[21] The units sent from Saudi included 1,000 (1,200[7]) troops along with 150 vehicles. The vehicles included "wheeled, light-armored vehicles with roof-mounted heavy machine guns". Saudi soldiers were apparently from Saudi Arabian National Guard, commanded by a son of King Abdullah, Prince Miteb.[6] Also, 500 United Arab Emirates (UAE) policemen were sent via the causeway between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.[22] Kuwait sent their navy to patrol the borders of Bahrain.[23][24] According to an Al Jazeera report, Pakistani former servicemen were recruited into the Bahraini National Guard.[25]

By 2014, 5,000 Saudi and Emirati forces were positioned "less than 10 miles from the Pearl Roundabout, the center of the country's protest movement".[23]


Bahrain's strategic importance to Saudi Arabian government is originated from economic, sectarian and geopolitical reasons.[26][27]

Sectarian and geopolitical goals[edit]

The real purpose of the intervention was to stop "a growing rebellion by the kingdom's majority, but deprived ... Shia citizens" by taking all necessary measures.[28] Death of an Emirati policeman, Tariq al-Shehi, made it clear that the foreign troops were in fact involved in suppressing protests.[23] According to Nuruzzaman, the most important factor leading to Saudi's intervention in Bahrain,[29] is "the domino effect of Bahrain's fall into Shia hands".[29][30] Concerned about their own Shia population[27] and fearful of democratic change, Saudi king Abdullah sought to reverse the pro-democracy movements in his neighbor countries using force.[29] Saudi Arabia maintained that the cause of unrest in Saudi's eastern province, is the Shia uprising in Bahrain. According to Steffen Hertog, a Saudi Arabia expert at the London School of Economics and Political Science, Saudi's move was a signal to Shia movements in the Eastern Province to express how seriously Saudi intended to crack down the unrest.[22] Moreover, keeping Al-Khalifa, "the key conservative Sunni ally of Saudi", in power was of notable importance to Saudi to avoid the spread of Iran's influence in west of Gulf. Saudi Arabia acted through GCC to mask its "strategic concern" about Iran and its influence.[27]

As home of the United States Fifth Fleet, the events in Bahrain involved U.S. interests, too.[31][32][33] Any Saudi departure from Bahrain and the assertion of Shia power would also directly affect U.S. interests[29] and lead to weakening United States "military posture in the region".[33]

Economic goals[edit]

The intervention was apparently carried out with the aim of guarding Bahrain's oil infrastructure.[23] The two kingdoms have strong economical ties and Saudi Arabia had made significant investments in Bahrain's tourism, infrastructure and industry.[27] Saudi Arabia, Bahrain's largest trading partner, sent troops to Bahrain to pursue some economic goals and among the important factors leading to sending troops to Bahrain were "the possibility of the loss of oil fields, terminals and crude processing plants, the loss of investment and future investment prospects".[29] Moreover, any spill over of Bahrain's unrest into the neighbor kingdom would "upend" global oil markets.[26]


On 3 March 2014, a remotely detonated bomb by protesters in the village of Al Daih killed 3 police officers. One of the police officers killed was an Emirati policeman from the Peninsula Shield Force. The two other officers killed were Bahraini policemen.[34] On 15 January 2017, the Bahraini government passed a capital punishment sentence of execution by firing squad on three men found guilty for the bomb attack that killed the three security forces.[35]


Primarily interpreted by analysts "in terms of domestic and regional political and strategic dynamics", the intervention has created serious regional and global concerns[29] and has turned the uprising into a regional cold war. Among other factors, the foreign military intervention may drive the sectarianism.[36] According to Foreign Policy magazine, the intervention marked "a dramatic escalation of Bahrain’s political crisis."[12]


  •  UN: Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations said that he was "troubled" by "the deployment of the Peninsula Shield Force" and that "the arrival of Saudi and UAE troops had been noted with "concern"". He asked all those involved to "exercise maximum restraint".[22]
  •  Iran: Tehran asserted that the move was an invasion and accused the GCC of "meddling" in Bahrain's internal affairs."[22]
  •  Pakistan: Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's prime minister, supported the intervention and in his visit to Saudi Arabia he reassured that he would "help devise a new battle plan for Saudi intervention in the country".[37]
  •  Turkey: Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, condemned the intervention and characterized the Saudi movement as "a new karbala." He demanded withdrawal of Saudi forces from Bahrain.[38]
  •  United States: They expressed to be "shocked" by the move but rejected Iran's calling it an invasion.[22] Obama administration "obliquely criticized" Saudi's movement.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Saudi Arabia set to withdraw troops from Bahrain". Arabian Business. 28 June 2011.
  2. ^ "Bahrain: Widespread Suppression, Scant Reforms". Human Rights Watch.
  3. ^ "State of emergency declared in Bahrain". The National. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
  4. ^ a b "Bahrain king declares martial law over protests". NBC News. Retrieved 5 August 2015.
  5. ^ a b "Emirati hero killed in the line of duty in Bahrain laid to rest". The National. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
  6. ^ a b c Henderson, Simon. "Bahrain's Crisis: Saudi Forces Intervene". Washington Institute. Retrieved 19 March 2016.
  7. ^ a b c d Bronner, Ethan; Slackman, Michael (14 March 2011). "Saudi Troops Enter Bahrain to Help Put Down Unrest". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 17 March 2011. Retrieved 14 March 2011.
  8. ^ Held, David; Ulrichsen, Kristian (2012). The transformation of the Gulf politics, economics and the global order. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. ISBN 9781136698408. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  9. ^ "Gulf States Send Force to Bahrain Following Protests". BBC News. 14 March 2011. Archived from the original on 20 April 2011. Retrieved 15 April 2011.
  10. ^ "Two Killed in Bahrain Violence Despite Martial Law". BBC News. 15 March 2011. Archived from the original on 5 April 2011.
  11. ^ "Saudi Intervention in Bahrain". Stratfor. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  12. ^ a b Seznec, Jean-François (14 March 2011). "Saudi Arabia Strikes Back". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 21 May 2016.
  13. ^ Black, Ian (14 February 2011). "Arrests and Deaths as Egypt Protest Spreads Across Middle East". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 13 April 2011. Retrieved 14 April 2011.
  14. ^ (in Arabic) "قتيل وأكثر من 30 مصاباً في مسيرات احتجاجية أمس". Al Wasat. 15 February 2011. Retrieved 25 June 2012.
  15. ^ "Bahrain Shia Leaders Visit Iraq". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 20 January 2011.
  16. ^ "Bahrain Mourners Call for End to Monarchy – Mood of Defiance Against Entire Ruling System After Brutal Attack on Pearl Square Protest Camp That Left at Least Five Dead". The Guardian. 18 February 2011. Archived from the original on 19 February 2011. Retrieved 31 March 2011.
  17. ^ "Clashes Rock Bahraini Capital". Al Jazeera. 17 February 2011. Archived from the original on 18 February 2011. Retrieved 15 April 2011.
  18. ^ "Bahrain Protests: Police Break Up Pearl Square Crowd". BBC News. 17 February 2011. Archived from the original on 5 April 2011. Retrieved 15 April 2011.
  19. ^ "Bahrain 'asks for Gulf help'". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 6 April 2023.
  20. ^ "Saudi Soldiers Sent into Bahrain". Al Jazeera. 15 March 2011. Archived from the original on 15 April 2011. Retrieved 15 April 2011.
  21. ^ Ilan, Goldenberg; Dalton, Melissa Griffin (2015). Bridging the Gulf : How to fix U.S. relations with the GCC. Council on Foreign Relation. JSTOR 43946541. OCLC 1023441567.
  22. ^ a b c d e Amies, Nick. "Saudi intervention in Bahrain increases Gulf instability". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  23. ^ a b c d Holmes, Amy Austin. "The military intervention that the world forgot". Al-Jazeera. Retrieved 11 March 2016.
  24. ^ Katzman, Kenneth. "Bahrain: Reform, Security, and U.S. Policy" (PDF). Congressional Research Service. Retrieved 19 May 2016.
  25. ^ Mashal, Mujib. "Pakistani troops aid Bahrain's crackdown". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 16 June 2016.
  26. ^ a b Bronson, Rachel. "Saudi Arabia's Intervention in Bahrain: A Necessary Evil or a Strategic Blunder?" (PDF). Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  27. ^ a b c d Gray, Matthew (7 October 2014). Global Security Watch—Saudi Arabia. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9780313387005. Retrieved 16 June 2016.
  28. ^ Butler, William. "Saudi Arabian intervention in Bahrain driven by visceral Sunni fear of Shias". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 March 2016.
  29. ^ a b c d e f Nuruzzaman, Mohammed (2013). "Politics, Economics and Saudi Military Intervention in Bahrain". Journal of Contemporary Asia. 43 (2): 363–378. doi:10.1080/00472336.2012.759406. S2CID 216139794. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  30. ^ "Why Saudi Arabia Crushed the Democratic Uprising in Bahrain". ADHRB. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  31. ^ Bayyenat, Abolghasem (10 June 2011). "Bahrain: Beyond the U.S.-Iran Rivalry - FPIF". Foreign Policy In Focus. Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  32. ^ Amirahmadi, Hooshang; Afrasiabi, Kaveh (29 April 2011). "The west's silence over Bahrain smacks of double standards". the Guardian. Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  33. ^ a b Friedman, George. "Bahrain and the Battle Between Iran and Saudi Arabia". Stratfor. Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  34. ^ Saeed, Farishta; Aboudi, Sami (3 March 2014). Liffey, Kevin (ed.). "Bahrain blast kills three policemen: Interior Ministry". Reuters.
  35. ^ "Bahrain executes three, despite protests". DW.COM. Deutsche Welle. 15 January 2017. Retrieved 15 January 2017.
  36. ^ Gengler, Justin. "How Bahrain's crushed uprising spawned the Middle East's sectarianism". The Washington Post. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  37. ^ Alam, Kamal. "Saudi Arabia Has Devastated Pakistan's History of Religious Tolerance and Diversity". Muftah. Retrieved 19 March 2016.
  38. ^ Bhadrakumar, M.K. "Asia Times Online :: Middle East News, Iraq, Iran current affairs". Asia Times. Archived from the original on 2 June 2011. Retrieved 22 May 2016.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  39. ^ Sanger, David E.; Schmitt, Eric (14 March 2011). "Saudi Arabia's Action in Bahrain Strains Ties With United States". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 May 2016.