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Bahrain wants early warning of any move on Iran

LONDON (Reuters) - International tension over Iran poses a serious threat to Bahrain’s security and the Gulf kingdom wants its allies to give it early warning of any planned escalation, its public security chief said on Wednesday.

Major General Abdul Latif bin Rashid Al Zayani was apparently referring to the possibility of U.S. military action against Tehran’s nuclear program.

“The level of tension currently concerning Iran is a further significant threat,” he said in a speech in London to the Royal United Services Institute, a security think-tank.

“Should the situation deteriorate, there will be a major impact in Bahrain, where a proportion of our Shia population follow Iran’s religious leadership blindly and apparently without question.”

Zayani added: “In this connection and more generally, it is important to say that the actions of our allies often influence threat levels in Bahrain. As partners we ask, rather in hope than in expectation, that we are consulted or at least given early warning of major escalation or other actions” that could have an internal impact on the kingdom, he said.

His comments reflected both Gulf Arab nervousness over Iran and concern at the risk of being caught off-guard by military action, an option which Washington has refused to rule out.

Bahrain’s population of just over 1 million is majority Shi’ite, like Iran, but the U.S.-allied kingdom is ruled by Sunni Muslims.

Concerned over religious tensions, authorities this week blocked three websites they said were implicated in fuelling sectarian strife, and the prime minister set up a committee to monitor sectarianism and comments disparaging the royal family in the media, religious sermons and on the Web.

Zayani later told Reuters the right way to handle the Iranian crisis was “to have a diplomatic solution”.

He added: “In all events, whenever an action is taken, we would like to be consulted” in order to “take care of the safety of our population”.

He deflected a question about the security implications of sectarian tension, saying: “Bahrain has always been one population united, throughout history.”

In his speech, he said authorities in Saudi Arabia -- separated only by a causeway from Bahrain -- had sharply reduced militant attacks but “there is the evident risk of them spilling over into Bahrain as extremists or terrorists seek out what they might perceive to be a softer target”.

The U.S. Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain was also a “high-profile target”, he said.

Among other measures, the kingdom is reviewing protection of critical infrastructure and improving coastal radar and aerial tracking of ships, said Zayani, who is responsible for the police, coastguard, fire service and civil defense.