A Saudi official confirmed on Monday that more than 1,000 Saudi troops have entered Bahrain, where anti-regime protests have been going on for a month.
The official told AFP that the troops entered the country on Sunday, and that the intervention came “after repeated calls by the (Bahraini) government for dialogue, which went unanswered” by the opposition.
Bahraini television showed on Monday evening a line of armored vehicles carrying Saudi troops crossing the 16-mile causeway that links the two countries. The Los Angeles Times cited witnesses and diplomats who said that the force began taking up positions at strategic locations around the country, including the neighborhood that is home to the royal family. There was no immediate sign that the Saudi troops were positioning themselves near Pearl Roundabout, the traffic circle in the capital which is occupied by protestors.
Anti-regime protests in Bahrain have been taking place since last month, as demonstrators have called on the government to announce reforms that would end what they claim is systematic discrimination against the country’s Shi’ite population (which makes up the majority) by its Sunni rulers.
The Bahraini king, Hamed ibn Isa Khalifa, has offered to begin dialogue with the demonstrators and has also suggested a new parliament and other reforms. The opposition, however, has refused to talk until the government resigns.
Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, and is the only Arab country which has a female Jewish ambassador to the United States, Huda Nono.
The official Bahrain news agency posted a statement on Monday in which it said that the arrival of the Saudi troops is the first wave of a larger intervention by Bahrain's Persian Gulf neighbors.
“On this occasion, the Bahrain Defense Forces calls upon all citizens and residents to cooperate fully with the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council –ed.] forces and welcome them warmly,” read the statement which was quoted by The Los Angeles Times.
The Saudi intervention came just two days after U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited the capital Manama and held talks with the king in which he urged Bahrain to undertake rapid and significant reform.
Gates noted that Washington was concerned that the longer the instability in Bahrain continues, the more likely it is that Iran would try to meddle in Bahrain's affairs.
Gates’ concerns may be have some substance since, according to a report in Reuters on Monday, Iran has urged Bahrain not to allow foreign interference in the country.
The report quoted the Director General for Persian Gulf and Middle East Affairs at Iran's Foreign Ministry, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, who said that foreign interference in Bahrain would only complicate the situation.
“The peaceful demonstrations in Bahrain are among the domestic issues of this country, and creating an atmosphere of fear and using other countries' military forces to oppress these demands is not the solution,” Abdollahian was quoted by the Fars news agency as saying. “It is expected that the demands of the Muslim people of Bahrain ... be seriously considered by the authorities and that they prevent the situation from becoming more complex by making right decisions and not allowing foreign interferences in Bahrain.”