Iran gets a mini-break - in Bahrain
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
NEW YORK - After months of relentless onslaught of accusations - of terrorism,
nuclear proliferation, meddling in neighbors' internal affairs, and on and on -
Tehran finally got a timely break last week, in the form of a 500-page
government-authorized report in Bahrain last week that found no evidence
linking the mass protests in the tiny Persian Gulf island nation and Iran.
The report by an independent commission of inquiry headed by Mahmoud Cherif
Bassiouni dealt a severe blow to the Bahraini regime by concluding that the
security forces had used torture and excessive force against detainees arrested
in the Saudi-backed crackdowns over the past several months.
The government has responded by setting up a commission to
"study" the report's findings and make recommendations for changing the
direction of policies in Bahrain to achieve what has eluded the ruling
al-Khalifa family so far, namely, national reconciliation.
Clearly, the report's finding on Iran, based on thousands of interviews and
review of documents furnished by the Manama government, is a tough pill to
swallow, raising hard questions about why the Bahraini rulers have played the
game of "blame Iran" for as long as they have,
Quite predictably, instead of accepting the report's conclusion that Iran is
not somehow masterminding the Shi'ite-dominated popular revolt for democracy,
government officials, led by the king himself, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, who
commissioned the report, have tried to distance themselves from its findings,
with the king making known his profound disagreement by his public statement
that any one with "eyes and ears" can ascertain Iran's attempt to influence the
events inside Bahrain.
Even so, the cat is out of the bag and no matter how hard the Bahrainis and
their Saudi or American allies, who have also gone on record accusing Iran of
meddling in Bahrain, try, the report has done its damage to their Iranphobic
campaign and, for now at least, there is little they can do to shift the winds
of fortune blowing in Iran's favor.
As expected, Iran has welcomed the Bahraini report. The foreign ministry
spokesperson, Ramin Mehmanparast, has put the focus on the report's finding of
human rights abuse, calling on the Bahraini government to take proper action to
remedy the situation. One reason why Iran feels especially gratified by the
report's findings is that they also have a direct implication with respect to
the recent US-Saudi allegations of an Iran terror plot in Washington DC.
This is so because the Saudi officials have gone on record claiming that one of
the defendants in the Iran "terror plot in Washington" is Gholam Shakuri, "a
Quds force case officer" who had "had "helped organize militant protests in
The US government has now disclosed a redacted version of the original criminal
complaint, filed on the day of the arrest of the other named defendant,
US-based Monsour Arbabsiar in late September, that has no mention of Shakuri
whatsoever, nor does it claim that Arbabsiar's purported relative in the Quds
Force is his "cousin", as claimed in the subsequent, ie, amended, complaint
that was unveiled on October 11, with much media publicity. The flagrant
discrepancies between the two complaints notwithstanding, they only add fresh
log to the deep public skepticism regarding the veracity of US-Saudi terror
allegations against Iran.
The Bahraini report's implication for the terror case against Iran, pending in
a federal court in Manhattan, is clear; that is, if the Saudis are wrong about
the involvement of the elite Iranian Quds Force in the Bahrain
uprising, then they may be equally wrong about Iran's involvement in a plot to
kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington.
This is, after all, a logical inference that is deduced from the connection
made earlier (principally by the Saudis) between the Bahraini revolt and the
purported terrorists who intended to use "weapons of mass destruction" in the
So far, Riyadh has refused to step back from its decision to back the US terror
accusations against Iran, perhaps thinking this makes good sense as a form of
politics of leverage vis-a-vis Tehran, but they could be proved wrong and
underestimate the price they may have to pay for their blunt attacks on Iran.
A few eyebrows must have been raised already in the Persian Gulf region,
knowing that the report has given a "clean bill of health" for Iran's behavior
toward Bahrain. At the same time, questions are being raised about the
repressive role of Saudi forces stationed in Bahrain since May, 2011, as well
as the Saudi campaign of Iran-bashing both directly - for example, through
Saudi sponsorship of a UN General Assembly resolution on the "Iran plot" - and
indirectly - for example, through the US and its terror accusations.
The Saudis have put themselves in a difficult position by adopting the terror
allegations as facts and consistently claiming that "there is substantial
evidence" that corroborates the US's claims, to paraphrase Saudi prince Turki
Consequently, the Bahraini report essentially functions as a warning not to
accept Saudi rhetoric against Iran at face value; they have been proved wrong
in one area, namely Bahrain, and that may be the case with their other
accusations against Iran. Little wonder Saudi officials have been tight-lipped
in their reactions to the report, opting to remain silent on its crucial
finding on Bahrain instead of either endorsing it or rejecting it - although it
is a sure bet that they will rely on their Bahraini and other allies to chip
away at the report by questioning its conclusions on Iran.
Tehran, now feeling slightly exonerated after months of being subject to
misplaced labeling and demonization, relishes the new development fostered by
the report, which aids Iran's leadership's discourse that it has been unfairly
accused on multiple fronts by the US and its regional allies.
The question, of course, is whether this can be utilized to break some ice
between Tehran and Riyadh, and, relatedly, whether we may observe a softening
of Saudi Arabia's intense Iran-bashing rhetoric and policy. This will not take
long to answer. The next weeks, if not days, will likely provide ample clues
derived from what the Saudis (as well as the US) say or do not say about Iran
and its Arab neighbors.
At a time of sharpening divisions between Tehran and Riyadh over Syria, which
has been bounced out of the Arab League and is now subject to sanctions by the
League, the Bahraini report serves Iran in its policy of criticizing Saudi
interventions in Bahrain and, to a lesser extent, in Syria, where aspects of
the political opposition receives active support from Saudi Arabia.
There is a linkage between Bahrain and Syria, at least as far as Tehran is
concerned. That may mean a conscious decision by Iran to seek a quid pro quo
with Saudi Arabia by pressuring the Saudis on Bahrain in order to lesson Saudi
pressure on Syria - Iran's key Arab allay.