Analysis & Opinions - The Cipher Brief

Lessons From Bahrain’s Response to COVID-19

| June 17, 2020

"According to Forbes, Bahrain is ranked in top 11 percent of safest countries in the world for COVID-19."

If you’re looking for some all too rare good news from the Middle East these days, consider Bahrain’s exceptional incident response to COVID-19.  Having become well practiced in defending itself against Iran’s pernicious attacks, Bahrain was prepared for dealing with the outbreak of COVID-19, for which Iran was also responsible.  Iran has supported proxy militants responsible for civil unrest as well as ethnic and sectarian divide since its failed attempt to overthrow Bahrain’s government in 1981.

On February 24, 2020, Bahrain confirmed its first case of the coronavirus in a school-bus driver who arrived from Iran via Dubai.  Failing to restrict overseas travel even as it faced one of the world’s worst eruptions of the disease, Tehran stopped stamping passports of those entering and leaving the country.

Iran’s failure to contain the coronavirus might have resulted from bureaucratic incompetence but taking into account Iran’s nefarious attacks on its neighbors in the region, we should not rule out that Iran wanted its enemies to suffer the pandemic’s horrific economic and health consequences as well.

The World Health Organization’s eastern Mediterranean office commended Bahrain’s swift and effective countermeasures against COVID-19 as an example that other countries should follow.  Bahrain quickly responded to the COVID-19 outbreak by providing no-cost medical treatment, living facilities, and food to those most in need.

Bahrain deployed innovative technology, including a new app, BeAware Bahrain, which uses location data to notify people when they are approaching a location where an active case of Covid-19 has been detected. The app also keeps citizens and residents up to date on recommendations issued by the Kingdom’s health authorities.

Formula One engineers in Bahrain designed a breathing apparatus for non-emergency-room patients inflicted with the virus.  Bahrain also transformed a TV sports channel into an educational channel; ordered a six-month reprieve from interest payments on loans; and approved a financial rescue package, which amounted to 28 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

In less than a month after its first case was discovered, Bahrain closed select border entry points, instituted extensive testing, shuttered its schools and many of its businesses and provided financial assistance to the most-hard-hit.  According to Forbes, Bahrain is ranked in top 11 percent of safest countries in the world for COVID-19.

All of Bahrain’s efforts to deal with COVID-19 are occurring amidst ongoing Iranian cyber and proxy militant attacks.  Mounting denial of service attacks, malware infections, and spear phishing, Iranian cyber hackers have focused on disrupting Bahrain’s government and economy. Bahrain’s Information & eGovernment Authority reported that it had intercepted more than 6 million attacks and over 830,000 malicious emails in the first half of 2019 alone.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has also been responsible for directing thousands proxy militant and terrorist attacks during the past decade.

In March of 2018 Bahrain arrested 116 people on charges of terrorism and colluding with Iran.  Bahraini security seized eight-hundred kilograms of explosives linked to the IRGC.   Forty-eight of the 116 people arrested had reportedly been trained in Iran. Designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. earlier this year, the Al-Ashtar Brigades, a separate militant group loyal to Iran, claimed responsibility for an explosion at Bahrain’s main oil pipeline.

A strategically important ally hosting the U.S. Navy’s fifth fleet, Bahrain is under siege from Iran’s multifaceted attacks, which have sparked civil unrest and risked a health crisis.  While we rightly criticize Iran for its incident response failures following the outbreak of the coronavirus, we should recognize Bahrain for so effectively defending its population with alacrity, innovative use of technology, and effective policies.

Earlier this month, special envoy Brian Hook castigated Tehran for acting as the “principle driver of instability” in the Middle East.   Economic sanctions have been a major and effective tool of the Trump Administration’s maximum pressure campaign designed to target Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs as well as its state sponsored terrorism.  But if there is one thing I learned from serving as the CIA’s Director of Middle East, it is that we also need to double down on our support to our close allies like Bahrain, with whom we should partner closely to detect, counter, and deter, Iran’s multifarious threats to our national security before they are visited on our shores.

  – Via The Cipher Brief.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Hoffman, Daniel.“Lessons From Bahrain’s Response to COVID-19.” The Cipher Brief, June 17, 2020.