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Cablegate: Bahraini Public Reaction to Media Focus On Stories On U.S.

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R 041236Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY MANAMA
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 9190
INFO GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
COMUSNAVCENT
HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL

UNCLAS MANAMA 000064


FOR NEA/ARP

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV BA

SUBJECT: BAHRAINI PUBLIC REACTION TO MEDIA FOCUS ON STORIES ON U.S.
MISSILE DEFENSES IN THE GULF

1. (U) SUMMARY: During the past week, news stories regarding U.S.efforts to bolster its military presence in the Gulf received considerable coverage in local dailies and blogs. Bahraini public reaction varied considerably from support of U.S. efforts to defend stability in the region, to criticism of perceived U.S. provocation of Iran. END SUMMARY.

2.(U) On February 1, news stories regarding increased U.S. efforts to strengthen its military presence in the Gulf dominated the front pages of Bahraini English and Arabic dailies and blogs. On February 2, the story continued to garner coverage in the international pages of local dailies and social media sites. Pan-Arab and some local media highlighted the U.S. military presence in the Gulf on February 4, following remarks made by FM Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa in Washington, who characterized the U.S. military presence in the region as "defensive."

3.(U) Bahraini public reaction to the recent missile defense moves has varied widely from solid support for American efforts to criticism of the U.S. for allegedly seeking to provoke Iran. Local blogs expressed concerns that an increased military presence was indicative of a looming "new war" in the Gulf. Some also questioned whether despite its military capabilities, Iran would be able to attack the Gulf region. Several commentators argued that U.S. missile defense capabilities in the Gulf provided evidence of a "joint conspiracy between America and Iran," calling the U.S. and Iran "enemies of Muslims who have together destroyed Afghanistan and Iraq."

4.(SBU) As a result of the recent media focus, many Bahrainis have expressed concern that the reported strengthening of Gulf missile defenses means that America or Israel will attack Iran in the near future. Some Bahrainis have also publicly questioned whether the U.S. will place GCC security and stability above its own national interests in countering Iran.

5.(SBU) Comment: Elite opinion in both Bahrain's Sunni and Shia communities tends to view the recent media coverage as an adjunct to international maneuverings that are taking place beyond the view of the public. But most Bahrainis are less sophisticated, and many have reacted with alarm. The street in both communities fears that a conflict is brewing, and is convinced it would harm their island's stability, economic prosperity, and environment. Many ordinary Bahraini Shia resent talk of an attack or even increased sanctions against Shia Iran. On the other hand the Sunni street, while resentful of many U.S. regional policies, quietly welcomes the prospect of more non-military international pressure on Iran. ERELI

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