A FORMER commander of the US Navy in the region has described both the Bahraini Ruling Family and the navy’s presence in the kingdom as “important to ensuring peace in the region, open sea lanes and the containment of Iran’s hegemonic ambitions”.
Retired Vice-Admiral and former commander of the US Fifth Fleet, Douglas Katz, put his weight behind reforms initiated by His Majesty King Hamad in a blog that appeared on the website of The Hill, a publication that focuses on the US Congress in Washington, DC.
He said ongoing unrest since February last year raised difficult questions, but said it was key for the US to stick by its “close ally and friend”, which had “played a major role in Gulf security and stability”.
“I was the first three-star US Navy commander to be assigned to the region after the first Iraq War and know how volatile and dynamic the environment there can be,” said Vice-Admiral (ret) Katz.
“Even more, I see how important Bahrain is to the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) countries and to protecting Arab and American interests in that part of the world.”
He said questions raised by turmoil in Bahrain included what would happen if the ruling family ever stepped down, would the US Navy leave and would resulting chaos set off instability throughout the Gulf?
“If the US Navy and other forces were to depart the Gulf, who would be there to ensure the flow of oil and other commodities through the critical choke point of the Strait of Hormuz, where the Gulf meets the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean?” he asked.
“Would Iran dominate and threaten shipping as well as block energy exports and reserves?”
As a result, he said it was vital for the US to support one of its “strongest allies” – particularly in light of reforms that are being spearheaded by leaders in the Ruling Family.
“All of these leaders, then and now, continue to express a sincere commitment to ensuring that every Bahraini is able to make progress, prosper and develop personally regardless of sect or religious affiliation,” he wrote.
“I have watched the demonstrations with growing concern. I have seen overreactions on the part of the Bahrain Security Forces and observed strident rhetoric followed by uncontrolled violence generated by the radical opposition.
“Many innocent civilians, demonstrators and policemen have been killed and injured. Bahrain has witnessed unprecedented violence and divisions that I would not have thought possible in the 1990s or even after my last visit there in 2009. This is not the Bahrain I know.
“As I travelled there in late spring of this year, I did get the feeling that the government was trying to move toward a more democratic structure that will provide greater opportunity, stability and internal harmony for all Bahrainis.
“The process is slow and uneven but there is movement. The Kingdom is one of our strongest allies and it is in our own interest to support a continued friendship even as we press for and encourage their move toward democratic reform.
“During my recent visit, I met the King and the Crown Prince, and we talked, not only about old times, but the present unrest and their vision for the future.
“I know the King to be a strong leader and that was even more apparent during our conversation.
“I do think the demonstrations of a year and a half ago surprised him and he regrets the violence that resulted on both sides.
“He understands the need to play an essential role in maintaining a balance between the conflicting interests.
“I am convinced he is also making every effort to meet all the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry recommendations, even while acknowledging they cannot happen as quickly as many would like.”