Commentary

Iran and Saudi Arabia Spar over GCC Troops in Bahrain

Middle East In Focus

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Following the intervention of Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council troops in Bahrain, Iranian leaders have made a series of charges that have been met with fierce opposition from regional actors. The recent arrest of members of an Iranian spy ring in Kuwait has added fuel to the fire, as Kuwaitis and others warn Iran to stop meddling in the affairs of the Gulf countries.

Last week the official Iranian Islamic Republic News Agency cited officials in the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, which “issued its second statement on Thursday to warn Saudi Arabia not to play with fire in the Persian Gulf and advised Saudis to pull their forces out of Bahrain. The statement advises Saudi Arabia not to pursue the wrong polices of the U.S. in the region and consider its own interests as well as the interests of world Muslims and help restore tranquility and security to the region.” The statement was followed by the declaration on Fars News of a senior Iranian legislator who “deplored the continued suppression of the Bahraini protesters by the Saudi troops deployed in the tiny Persian Gulf island, and warned that the move will result in the accelerated collapse of the Al- Saud dynasty in Saudi Arabia.”

Fears of foreign intervention have also been stoked by reports that Hezbollah was involved in the training of Bahraini protesters. Reuters reported last week, “Hezbollah denied it had any cadres or Lebanese individuals operating in the Gulf nation ‘and Hezbollah does not have any cells in Bahrain, either composed of Bahrainis or any other nationalities.’ ‘We have to affirm that our Bahraini brothers did not ask us for any military or security training on any day, and we have not given any training of that kind,’ it said, adding that the group had only provided political and moral support for the protests.

These developments were met with immediate condemnation from Saudis as well as others in the region. According to Arab News, “An official source of the Saudi government said, ‘It condemned in strong terms the irresponsible statement issued in the name of the Committee for National Security and Foreign Policy of the Council of Iranian Islamic Shoura, which described the Saudi policy in the Gulf region as playing with fire and demanded the Kingdom to withdraw its forces from Bahrain…. The latest instance of Iran's brazen interference was in Kuwait, where it used a network linked to the Iranian mission to plot against that country.’”

A statement was reported on Al Arabiya following the meeting of the six-member GCC, “the Council “today denounced Iranian interference it its regional affairs….The statement rejected Iran's ‘continuing interference’ in the internal affairs of the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, after Iran criticized Saudi Arabia for sending troops to Bahrain which faces protests by majority Shiites against the island state's Sunni ruling family…. On Saturday, the new Gulf Cooperation Council secretary general, Abdullatif al-Zayani, condemned ‘Iran's meddling in the internal affairs of GCC countries’ saying it ‘threatened security and stability in the region.’”

Even the Bahraini opposition has expressed its dissatisfaction with the interference of the Iranian leadership, although it also called on the Saudis to leave Bahrain.  According to Agence France-Presse, “Bahrain's opposition leader Ali Salman on Wednesday warned Iran and Saudi Arabia against using his country as a 'battlefield' in a proxy war. Salman urged Iran to keep out of the state's affairs and called on Saudi troops to leave the country. ‘We urge Iran not to meddle in Bahraini internal affairs’….’ We demand Saudi Arabia withdraw the Peninsula Shield forces.”

Despite the calls against non-intervention from Iran, according an Al Arabiya report,  Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad remains defiant, recently accusing “the United States and its allies [of having] pressured Gulf Arab states to accuse Tehran of interfering in the region and demanded Saudi forces leave Bahrain. ‘This statement was issued under pressure from America and its allies. It does not bear any legal value,’ Ahmadinejad told reporters at a Tehran news conference, after the GCC said Sunday it was worried about ‘Iranian meddling.’”

The Islamic Republic News Agency has also reported that Ahmadinejad has approached the UN secretary general, urging him to “stop the interventions of the US as well as some European countries in the affairs of regional countries. In a phone conversation with the UN chief, the Iranian President stressed the need for Ban’s more active role in managing regional developments in line with the interests of its peoples. He further expressed sorrow and concern over the incidents in a number of Middle East and North Africa countries and said it was high time that the UN chief played a historical and decisive role in settling the existing conflicts based on understanding and dialogue in order to hinder events similar to Afghanistan and Iraq catastrophes.”

Things appear to have become even more complicated after Kuwaiti security officials arrested several individuals who are said to belong to an Iranian spy ring. According to a report from Kuwait Times, “Kuwait's caretaker foreign minister said on Thursday that the country may expel three Iranian diplomats over a spying row, adding that his government has withdrawn its ambassador from Tehran, although Iran continues to deny interfering in Kuwait's internal affairs. Sheikh Mohammad Al-Salem Al-Sabah accused the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRG) of being behind a spy cell in Kuwait, whose relations with Iran have deteriorated over the past year”

Bahraini officials, following reports by the Kuwait News Agency, “extended full support and solidarity to Kuwait in all actions taken to preserve its security....During their weekly meeting, the Bahraini Cabinet affirmed the rejection and condemnation of all forms of interference in Kuwaiti internal affairs, wishing its sister Gulf state prosperity under the leadership of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.”

 


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