A decision dictated by the need to relaunch diplomatic and commercial relations with the Gulf ally. Green light to the delivery of 19 F-16 fighters and other weapons for a total of 2.8 billion. Criticism from human rights associations and activists groups. The decision may soon spread to Saudi Arabia.
Manama (AsiaNews / Agencies) - In order to boost diplomatic and commercial relations between Washington and Manama, the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has decided to remove all pre-conditions regarding respect for human rights in the sale of weapons to Bahrain. A unilateral go ahead to the delivery of F-16 fighters and other strategic weapons to a precious ally in the Middle East, after months of tensions and conflicts.
The Tillerson decision fits into the context of the initiatives promoted by the Trump administration to revive relations with the Sunni monarchies in the Middle East and to seek new ways to counter the growing influence of Iran and Russia in the Persian Gulf. In this context, Bahrain - and Saudi Arabia - is a key partner, as well as being the base of the United States fifth fleet, which has the task of patrolling the waters of the region.
Bahrain is a Gulf monarchy ruled by a Sunni dynasty in a country where the majority of the population (at least 60-70%) is Shia and want constitutional changes and social and economic rights. In 2011 in the wake of the Arab Spring, riots broke out that the king of Bahrain – a US ally supported by Riyadh – put down with Saudi military aid.
Last year, authorities arrested and sentenced Shia activists and religious leaders and suspended the activities of Al-Wefaq, the main Shia opposition group, on charges of terrorism, extremism and violence as well as ties to a foreign power (i.e. Iran).
Analysts and experts also add that it may be a signal sent to Riyadh, Manama and other capitals that the new administration intends to loosen the requests to its allies on human rights, respect for the opposition and internal dissent. Indeed, Barack Obama had put human rights conditions on the sale of 19 F-16 fighters to Bahrain, in response to the repression of internal Shiite dissent.
The total deal is worth $ 2.8 billion and Trump wants to unlock it removing all obstacles. Now Congress will have to examine the sale and raise any objections before final approval. The voices of activists and human rights organizations have already protested against the change of direction in the White House.
The decision is for now regarding Bahrain but could also extend soon to Saudi Arabia and other nations. The Middle East is again confirmed as the most important region for the sale and trade in weapons. According to a recent survey 43% of weapons are in Asia and the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia and Qatar among the nations leading the arms race, and a 86% spike in imports in the 2012-2016 five-year period.