US presence fuels Iran-Bahrain
tension By Kimia Sanati
TEHRAN - While an editorial in Iran's
influential Kayhan daily laying territorial claims
to Bahrain has sparked considerable tension in the
region, the real target may lie in competition
with the United States for influence in the
Kayhan editor Hossein
Shariatmadari has since admitted that his July 9
piece only reflected his personal opinion that the
former Iranian monarchy's recognition of Bahrain's
independence in 1971
made under questionable circumstances.
his editorial, Shariatmadari protested Bahrain's
support for the United Arab Emirates' claim to
three islands in the Persian Gulf that were part
of the 1971 deal. Public opinion in Bahrain, "a
province of Iran", wrote Shariatmadari, is in
favor of reunification with the "native land".
It is significant that Shariatmadari is
the appointed representative of Iranian Supreme
Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at Kayhan and one of
his close advisers.
Iranian monarchy abandoned its territorial claims
to Bahrain and in an agreement with Britain
recognized the independence of the former Persian
colony, which had been a British protectorate
since the late 18th century. The deal was struck
in return for acknowledgement of Iranian
sovereignty over three strategic eastern Persian
But a Gulf Cooperation
Council (GCC) statement has backed the claims of
the UAE to the islands - Greater and Lesser Tunb
and Abu Mussa. Bahrain, a GCC member along with
Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, was
a signatory to the statement.
grew over the Kayhan editorial, Iranian Foreign
Minister Manouchehr Mottaki visited Bahrain last
Friday to meet with his counterpart Sheikh Khalid
bin Ahmed Al Khalifa and offer assurances of
Iran's respect for the small Gulf country's
Mottaki's visit to
Bahrain was criticized in Iran by opposition
reformists and ruling hardliners alike. Daryoush
Ghanbari, a member of the Iranian Parliament's
national-security and foreign-policy body,
described the visit and the apologetic attitude as
"trampling on Iran's national dignity", Aftab news
agency reported. "Unfortunately there is a
contradiction in our foreign policy. There is an
unyielding policy against the US and the West ...
and an ineffectual policy toward the small
regional countries. Whenever they protest, we are
at a loss and trample on our national dignity,"
Ghanbari was quoted by Aftab as saying.
a subsequent article on the subject, Shariatmadari
hinted at the close ties that the GCC governments
have with the US, an indication of where the real
comments teetered on the fault line between
Bahrain's Sunni rulers and the country's majority
Shi'ite population. Protests at the Iranian
Embassy in Bahrain prior to Mottaki's arrival were
largely carried out by Sunni clerics and
The Iranian newspaper's
comments also incited huge reactions in Bahraini
newspapers, which called the comments
"provocative" and demanded an explanation and
apology from Iran.
A Bahraini Parliament
member, the Salafi Sunni Sheikh Jasem Saidi, has
since issued a death fatwa against
Shariatmadari and demanded that any Bahraini who
believes in what he wrote repent "within three
days" or be punished by death, the Baztab news and
analysis portal, a hardline government mouthpiece,
Criticizing the Keyhan editor's
"injudicious and irresponsible" comments, Mashalah
Shamsolvaezin, a prominent reformist journalist
and former editor of Kayhan himself, praised the
foreign minister's swift reaction and his visit to
Bahrain to contain the crisis. In in an editorial
in the reformist Shargh daily, he noted that Iran
has over the past two decades based its foreign
policy on establishing good-neighborly relations
and the need for cleansing the region of foreign
"With comments of the sort made
over the past few days [by Shariatmadari], Arab
countries will find greater justification to
increase their security levels against what is
called the Iranian threat," Shamsolvaezin wrote.
Iran-Bahrain relations have witnessed many
ups and downs since the Islamic Revolution in
Iran, particularly after a failed Shi'ite coup in
1981 and Shi'ite uprisings of the 1990s. Of the
80% Muslim population in Bahrain, an estimated 70%
are Shi'ites, many with Iranian roots.
This May, the Shi'ite-dominated Bahraini
Parliament passed a bill obligating the government
officially to announce would not support any US
attack against Iran or allow the use of its
facilities for the purpose.
Sunnis of Bahrain have always accused Iran of
supporting the country's Shi'ite dissidence, but
pro-Iranian sentiments are not very strong except
among a small minority of Bahraini Shi'ites who
are of Iranian origins and many of whom still
speak Persian. The rest value their independence,"
said an analyst in Tehran, requesting anonymity.
"The US military has huge bases in
Bahrain. Bahrain's Sunni rulers are apprehensive
toward Iran for this reason as well as because of
Shi'ite dissidence. They are afraid of being the
first target in the region if there is any
confrontation between Iran and the US," he said.