No festivities for Americans in Gulf. US Embassy in Bahrain, alert to possible Iranian reprisals, plays it safe and cancels July 4th party
Manama, Bahrain — The United States Embassy here has canceled a planned Independence Day celebration for the American community out of concern that it might present an attractive target for Iranian-inspired terrorists. The party cancellation is the first public indication in Bahrain of US concern about possible Iranian reprisals against Americans in the region, as a result of the Reagan administration's pledge to protect Kuwaiti tankers from attack in the Persian Gulf.
US naval ships are expected to begin Gulf escort of 11 Kuwaiti tankers reregistered under the American flag within the next two weeks.
The protection plan and the related US military buildup in the Gulf have triggered vigorous denunciations from Tehran, including threats of retaliation. But an embassy official stressed that the decision made earlier this week to cancel the party - which was expected to draw several hundred businessmen and their families - was made only out of general concern about tension in the region.
There was no specific intelligence, he said, suggesting imminent terrorist attacks in Bahrain or elsewhere in the Gulf.
The official cited a recent worldwide US State Department advisory that says the risk of anti-US terrorist attacks has increased as a result of ``ongoing defense in the Persian Gulf area.''
The advisory suggests a ``review of pertinent security measures by appropriate personnel.'' It does not specifically mention Fourth of July parties.
A Bahraini security official declined to discuss the issue. Diplomatic sources note that security efforts here have been greatly bolstered since an aborted 1981 coup attempt linked to Iran.
Similar American July 4 celebrations are expected to take place as scheduled in both Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Last year's July 4 party in Bahrain took place on the USS LaSalle, the flagship of the US Middle East Force. Until recently, the force included the US frigate Stark, which was struck on May 17 by Iraqi-fired Exocet missiles.
Life in Bahrain remains peaceful - almost serene - in sharp contrast to the ongoing Iran-Iraq war that has spilled over into the international shipping lanes of the Gulf.
There are no signs of tension in Bahrain's major city and port, Manama. But reminders of the nearby war are never far away. The USS Stark, after undergoing repairs, recently left Bahrain to return to its home port in Florida.
In addition, at least four tankers with sea-mine and missile damage are anchored in Bahraini waters awaiting repairs.
And in recent weeks, two sea mines from the Iran-Iraq war drifted close to the Bahraini coast before they were detonated by demolition experts. Last winter, two Bahraini boys who were playing on the beach were killed when a sea mine exploded.
Though US intelligence officials have suggested that the US Navy's higher profile in the region might increase the possibility of terror attacks against US diplomats, servicemen, businessmen, and travelers, so far no such attacks have taken place.