Analysis: Iranian-backed group in Bahrain creates sub-unit to target Israeli interests

Logo of Saraya Wa’ad Allah

Following the recent peace deal signed between Israel and the island Kingdom of Bahrain, Saraya Wa’ad Allah, an Iranian-backed group on the island, has announced its opposition to the deal vowing to target Israeli interests with a new specialized unit.

In a statement released earlier today, Saraya Wa’ad Allah [God’s Promise Companies] became the first Bahraini militant group to officially comment on the recent peace deal.

In the message, the group states that “this false normalization with the Zionist enemy is nothing but an update to the enabling of this cancerous gland on the body of the Ummah [worldwide Islamic community] and the rotten fruit of years of betrayal by Zionist governments.”

Saraya Wa’ad Allah, as well as other Bahraini militia groups, have long considered Bahrain and other Gulf monarchies to be clients of Israel and have called them ‘Zionist’ as a response.

It goes on to add in the statement that “what is being woven between puppet regimes of arrogance with the Zionist enemy is rejected by reason, Sharia law, and the people.” In denouncing the ruling Al-Khalifa family, Saraya Wa’ad Allah says that the peace deal is “nothing but a mirage” and that King Hamad al-Khalifa will soon “taste his pursuit.”

Saraya Wa’ad Allah exclaims that its men, as well as the people of Bahrain, “are passionate about fighting the Zionist enemy” and that it will continue to resist “all of the arrogant policies that are intended to be imposed on our people and our Ummah.”

In this respect, the militant group says it will be creating a new sub-group, the “Martyrs of Jerusalem Company,” to specifically target Israeli interests on the island, and that it has now “opened the door” for recruitment into the specialized unit.

Formed in July 2015, Saraya Wa’ad Allah has been behind some of the deadlier attacks inside Bahrain. For instance, it was responsible for the Nov. 2017 bombing of a bus near Manama that killed one police officer and injured eight others.

Much like other other militias on the island, Saraya Wa’ad Allah brands itself within the so-called “Islamic Resistance,” a pro-Iran moniker. Its media has been circulated by other groups within this branding, as well as Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps channels.

Prior Threats to Israeli Interests

This is not the first time a Bahraini militant group has threatened Israeli interests in Bahrain. Over the last year as Bahraini and Israeli ties grew more transparent, this became a common refrain among some of the groups.

For instance, last spring Saraya Wa’ad Allah itself took credit for the purported cancellation of an Israeli delegation meeting with Bahraini officials on the island. While the meeting did end up taking place in secret, it was initially reported that the event was cancelled due to “security concerns.”

Israeli officials stated at the time that a crude animated video posted online by the group prompted the cancellation. Not long after, Saraya Wa’ad Allah then posted several purported screenshots of threatening messages and emails it claimed were sent to the Israeli delegation.

The threats to Israeli nationals and interests on the island came just two months after another Iranian-backed group in Bahrain, Saraya al-Ashtar, threatened similar attacks.

In Feb. 2019, Saraya al-Ashtar, a US-designated terrorist group, openly threatened attacks against Israeli targets in Bahrain. Speaking in a video, a spokesman for the group denounced the “Khalifa regime’s openness to the Zionists” and added that the “Zionist presence is a legitimate target” on the island.

Other groups, such as Saraya al-Mokhtar, have also long bemoaned Israeli presence in the Gulf.

Many Threats, Not a Lot of Action

Despite the new threats to target Israeli nationals and interests in Bahrain, it remains to be seen how this will materialize. In the last year alone, several militias have promised new attacks. None, however, have actually made good on their promise.

Following Saraya al-Ashtar’s Feb. 2019 statement warning of new attacks, it again threatened a renewed campaign on the island in July 2019 following the state execution of two individuals accused of terrorism.

Around the same time, Saraya Wa’ad Allah also warned of retributive strikes. In a brief video, the group warned of targeted assassinations with photos and general locations of several figures within the Bahraini security apparatus and an ending quote with “blood for blood.”

While in Nov. 2019, Katibat al-Haydariyah, a long dormant militia in Bahrain, reemerged to warn of new attacks.

Even with these warnings, not one of these groups has claimed a new attack inside Bahrain since 2017. According to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal, the last claimed attack on the island perpetrated by a militia within the “Islamic Resistance” branding was on Feb. 10, 2019.

That claim, a purported IED in A’ali, was posted online by a previously unknown group, Saraya Tha’ir Allah, just one day after Saraya al-Ashtar’s warning. However, no local reporting confirmed an explosion in that area on that day and it is unclear if Tha’ir Allah is connected to al-Ashtar.

Bahraini security forces have routinely arrested individuals involved in terrorism and have raided numerous arms warehouses and weapons caches on the island over the years.

These moves have drastically impacted the overall effectiveness of the militias operating in Bahrain, as claimed terrorist attacks on the island have fallen exponentially since 2017 according to FDD’s Long War Journal‘s data.

Though heavy-handed tactics and collective punishment employed by the security forces have often times perpetuated the cycle of violence and have played into Iran’s strategy in fomenting insurgency on the island.

Despite the decline in overall success rates for attacks in Bahrain, it is possible this could change in the future. In the wake of the peace deal between Bahrain and Israel, it is possible that Iranian-backed groups may make more of a concerted effort to conduct successful attacks on the island as this could constitute a renewed focus for the outfits.

And given Iran’s history of smuggling weapons and explosives into Bahrain, these efforts may also be ramped up to facilitate renewed campaigns on the island or specific attacks on Israeli interests.

Caleb Weiss is an editor of FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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