A senior Iranian military figure close to Ayatollah Khamenei has once again falsely claimed Iranian sovereignty over Bahrain.

According to Tasnim News Agency, General Saeed Qassimi said: “Bahrain is an Iranian province that was separated from Iran as a result of colonialism”. This Commander of Ansar Hezbollah and senior Revolutionary Guards Commander reportedly made the comments on 20 March at an event in Bushehr.

“Iran must exert effort to restore Bahrain as Iranian territory and make it a part of Bushehr province,” Qassimi added. He also claimed that “a front for the support of revolutionary groups in Bahrain has been established in Bushehr”. Although the report failed to clarify the nature of these organizations set up to support terrorism in Bahrain.

There has been a pattern of senior hardliners from Khamenei’s inner circle making such comments. Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri, the Inspector General in the office of the Supreme Leader in 2009 described Bahrain as “Iran’s fourteenth province.”

In 2012 Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani, claimed Bahrain as a 14th province of Iran and called for Bahrain’s “incorporation” into Iran.  

At around the same time Iranian former ambassador to France Sadeq Kharrazi said: “If Iran wanted, it could take control of Bahrain in a few hours by using its rapid reaction forces”.

Bahrain is a proud Arab nation, a historic power in the Arabian Gulf and an integral part of the GCC. In fact, after several decades of baseless claims by Iran of sovereignty over Bahrain, the UN commissioned a committee of inquiry into the issue in 1970. The investigation concluded that “the overwhelming majority of the people of Bahrain wish to gain recognition of their identity in a full independent and sovereign State, free to decide for itself its relations with other States”. The following year, the Shah of Iran formally renounced any claims over Bahrain.

However, after the 1979 Iranian revolution Iran’s new leadership made repeated attempts to undermine stability in Bahrain and impose their own vision. At that time, Bahrain had a remarkably good record of coexistence between the different sects; yet Iran did everything it could to politicize and radicalize Shia groupings. In 1981 this gave rise to a failed coup attempt by the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain. 

The Islamic Front brought together many of the most radicalized elements of existing sectarian societies. Many of these figures were arrested and others fled into exile. In fact several of the figures involved in these events are among those who relied on Iranian support to try and impose an “Islamic republic” in Bahrain in 2011.

Over the past year, Iran has been behind numerous weapons smuggling operations; and most of the entities involved in acts of terrorism in Bahrain have been shown to have been trained by Iran and Hezbollah; receiving Iranian funding and support.

This demonstrates that claims of sovereignty over Bahrain by senior Iranian figures are not an idle academic exercise or a simple attempt to rewrite history. These are parts of a consistent Iranian programme to undermine stability in Bahrain and use its influence to trigger sectarian conflict, with the aim of enforcing Iranian hegemony. Such Iranian attempts to use proxy groups to aggressively expand Iranian influence are exactly what we are witnessing in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Iraq and elsewhere.

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