19th June, 2012

“If Iran wanted, it could take control of Bahrain in a few hours by using its rapid reaction forces”.

These are not the words of some unrealistic military analyst, but a statement from a senior Iranian official, one of Iran’s most senior ambassadors.

This comes on the back of numerous other statements by some of the most senior figures within Iran’s regime, such as Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani, claiming Bahrain as a 13th province of Iran and calling for Bahrain’s “incorporation” into Iran.  

This all bears a worrying similarity to statements by Saddam Hussein, immediately prior to his invasion of Kuwait – few in West believed at the time that Saddam would act on his rhetoric. Once again, we’ve grown used to patronizing language by Western figures  telling Bahrainis to calm down and not overreact to calls for Iranian hegemony over our islands.

On one hand we know that an Iranian direct invasion of Bahrain would be suicidal: Our Arabian Gulf neighbours make it clear that an attack on one Gulf state is an attack against all, and any aggression would meet a decisive response. Not to mention the presence of the US 5th fleet on Bahrain’s doorstep. Make no mistake, Bahrain is defended.

However, while Iran’s Ambassador to France may be foolish to openly fantasize about the regime’s desire to make military inroads into the Arabian Peninsula, he is merely reflecting regime policy since the revolution. Bahrain has seen a number of Iran-sponsored coup attempts throughout the 1980s and 1990s, increasingly relying on Shia, pro-Iran groups inside Bahrain to do its dirty work. Perhaps in 2011 Iran came closest to succeeding.

And still Iran-propaganda TV outlets like Al-Alam and Press TV spread sectarian hatred, lies and propaganda with the aim of inciting Bahrainis against their leaders. Iran’s goals of annexing Bahrain have not changed, however its methods have become somewhat more subtle.

Only last month Bahrain began legal moves to close down the Amal Society, answerable to its spiritual leader Abdulhadi Al Mudarrassi, a cleric currently based in Iraq who has since the 1980s acted on behalf of Iran to achieve regime change in Bahrain. For example, Mudarrassi founded the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain, which staged one of Iran’s most notorious coup attempts soon after the revolution.

Many other of Bahrain’s leading Shia clerics and leaders of the protest movement like Ayatollah Isa Qasim, Ali Salman and Hasan Mushaime are similar to Mudarrassi in aspiring to an Islamic republic for Bahrain along Iranian lines.

Iran’s attempts at hegemony over Bahrain mirror its policy for other parts of the region, especially Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and Palestine. Where – with varying degrees of success – it has sought to dominate through armed proxy groups. In Syria Iran has gone to extreme lengths to keep its ally in power, funding the murder of thousands of innocent Syrian civilians.

According to experts Iran is around a couple of years away from becoming a military nuclear power, at which point which nations would dare pick a fight with Iran and Iran’s leaders would be able to expand their aggressive policy of regional dominance.

We should similarly criticize our own leaders across the Arabian Gulf and Arab world for failing to take an assertive stance towards Iran; in particular there was an Arab failure to engage with Iraq following 2003, the result of which is that now Iraq’s Government and leading political parties are completely under Iran’s sway, and any political figures who challenge this orthodoxy, like Vice-President Tariq Al Hashemi are forced into exile.

Iran’s leaders may be fanatics, but they know what they are saying. When they call repeatedly for annexation of a sovereign nation like Bahrain, they should be taken at their word and world leaders should make clear that such rhetoric is a dangerous, illegal and unacceptable red line.

Only a month ago President Ahmedinejad visited the Iran-occupied Emirati island of Abu Musa; an obviously inflammatory step and a direct challenge to Gulf states which continue to dispute Iran’s hold over this cluster of islands.

When Britain entered into treaties with the Gulf states over 100 years ago, pledging protection and support, it was for very good reasons. These tiny states existed amongst aggressive empires which would think nothing of swallowing them up in seconds if not for that protection. The world has not changed so much today. The Gulf Union is one vital step towards protecting individual Gulf states against outside aggression, but regional security dictates that the world draw a clear line in the sand regarding Iranian designs on Bahrain and other parts of the Arab world where Iran seeks to hold power.

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