Bahrain, Kuwait accuse Iran of 'interference'

Tensions between Iran, Gulf states continue to flare amid inflammatory accusations by Tehran over 'toxic gas,' arms buys.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei at NAM 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei at NAM 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Tensions flared again between Iran and Gulf states Bahrain and Kuwait this week, leading to criticism from both Gulf countries that Tehran was interfering in their domestic affairs.
Comments that Iran’s deputy foreign minister made Tuesday sparked the latest diplomatic spat with Bahrain, after Hossein Amir-Abdollahian accused the Sunni-ruled island country of using “toxic gas” to suppress Shi’ite protesters.
Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry immediately rushed out a statement condemning Abdollahian’s remarks.
“We are severely astonished at these false allegations, which are designed to cover up the disastrous situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the suffering of the Iranian people under the catastrophic and tragic deteriorating economic conditions,” the statement said, according to a report in Kuwait’s Al-Seyassah political daily on Thursday.
The ministry said Abdollahian’s comments had “encroached on Bahrain’s sovereignty.”
Echoing the Foreign Ministry’s comments, Bahrain’s Minister of State for Information Affairs Sameera Rajab told Saudi newspaper Al-Madina on Thursday that Iran was “lying to cover up the suffering of its own people.”
Rajab said she considered Abdollahian’s remarks to be “signs of direct intervention by Tehran” in her country’s affairs.
“Abdollahian knows he was lying, because he knows Bahrain very well and [that] we do not have hostile or racist policies,” she said.
She accused “radical groups” of working to “tarnish Bahrain’s image internationally.”
Relations between Sunniruled Bahrain and Shi’ite Iran, always tense, deteriorated further in the wake of the Arab Spring. Tehran has angered Bahrain by supporting protests by the kingdom’s majority Shi’ites, which began in February 2011. At least 50 people have been killed since the unrest began.
Bahrain is also the headquarters of the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, which Iran has threatened to attack in the event of a war with Israel.
In turn, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have accused Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah of aiding the Shi’ite-led uprisings as part of an effort to export its Islamic Revolution outside its borders.
In March 2011, Bahrain recalled its ambassador from Tehran in anger at what it said was “blatant interference” in its internal affairs. The ambassador returned to Tehran in August.
On Wednesday, Kuwait also criticized remarks that a senior Iranian military commander made regarding the Gulf states.
Maj.-Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, an adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and a former Revolutionary Guards commander, accused Gulf states this week of spending billions of dollars on arms to carry out a “US and Israeli plot,” according to Iran’s state media. However, Safavi did not elaborate on what that plot might entail.
“We warn smaller countries that petrodollars cannot make them play key roles in the region,” he warned.
In response, a senior Kuwaiti foreign ministry official said that Kuwait “rejected any interference in its domestic affairs,” Gulf News reported.
This latest spat comes after Iran denied a Kuwaiti media report in September that cited an Iranian lawmaker as saying Tehran had the “right to interfere in Kuwait to protect the Shi’ites there.”
Iran dismissed the report, which caused outrage among Kuwaiti lawmakers, as a “politically- tainted and fabricated claim.”
In the past, Kuwait and Iran have enjoyed reasonably close diplomatic and economic relations.
However, Kuwait, like other Gulf states, is concerned that Iran may pose a threat to its national security, believing that the Islamic Republic and Hezbollah are behind Shi’ite unrest in the Gulf.
In 2011, Kuwait sentenced three people – two Iranians and a Kuwaiti – to death for spying for Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, a development that many in the Gulf saw as evidence of Iran’s covert operations in the region.