The US has important strategic interests in Bahrain, including the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet – patrolling oil shipping lanes, keeping an eye on Iran, and involved with the war in Afghanistan. But US officials also worry about Bahrain’s violent response to pro-democracy demonstrators.
With about 30 ships (including two aircraft carriers) the Fifth Fleet patrols the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, and the east coast of Africa.
Bahrain has provided basing and overflight clearances for US aircraft engaged in Afghanistan, and it has helped cut off money supplies to suspected Islamic terrorists. More than 4,000 US service personnel live and move about freely there.
“Could we find some other place to put a fleet headquarters? Probably we could,” Anthony Cordesman, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Wall Street Journal. “But if Bahrain becomes unstable, if it comes under Iranian influence … [that] threatens the entire structure of world oil markets.”