Iran’s threats against Bahrain are nothing new
In the context of heightened US-Iranian tensions, Tehran is once again making threats against Bahrain, this time threatening to launch missile attacks in which sovereign Bahraini port facilities will be “raised to the ground”. Such aggressive language falls within a pattern of consistent incitement against Bahrain by Iranian leadership figures. Below we look at the broader context of these attacks against Bahrain in recent years:
US base in Bahrain to be “raised to the ground”
Prominent Iranian MP and member of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, Mojtaba Zonour, warned on 6 February 2017 that if America takes measures against Iran, Iran would retaliate against US assets in Bahrain:
“The US Army's Fifth Fleet has occupied a part of Bahrain, and the enemy's farthest military base is in the Indian Ocean, but these points are all within the range of Iran's missile systems and they will be razed to the ground if the enemy makes a mistake… Only seven minutes is needed for the Iranian missile to hit Tel Aviv.”
Deploying proxies against Bahrain & Yemen
As proxy Iranian militias completed their bloody assault on the Syrian city of Aleppo in late 2016; several Iranian paramilitary leaders threatened that these forces (including Iraqi, Afghan, Pakistani, Lebanese and Syrian militias) could be deployed as an “expeditionary force” elsewhere in the region, including Bahrain and Yemen. Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Hussein Salami declared:
“It is now time for the Islamic conquests. After the liberation of Aleppo, Bahrain’s hopes will be realized and Yemen will be happy with the defeat of the enemies of Islam.”
IRGC Brig-Gen Mohammad Ali Falaki, serving with the Afghan Fatemiyoun Division in Syria said:
“We will go to south Lebanon and support the Shias over there. We will also go to Bahrain and Yemen.”
Quds Force Commander Qassim Soleimani, in 2015 made similar threats:
“We are witnessing the export of the Islamic Revolution throughout the region. From Bahrain and Iraq to Syria, Yemen and North Africa.”
Calls to annex Bahrain
General Saeed Qassimi, an IRGC and Ansar Hezbollah commander, close to Ayatollah Khamenei in March 2016 falsely claimed Iranian sovereignty over Bahrain. Qassimi stated that “a front for the support of revolutionary groups in Bahrain has been established in Bushehr”:
"Bahrain is an Iranian province that was separated from Iran as a result of colonialism… Iran must exert effort to restore Bahrain as Iranian territory and make it a part of Bushehr province."
In 2012 Iranian former ambassador to France Sadeq Kharrazi made threats about how easily Iran could invade Bahrain:
“If Iran wanted, it could take control of Bahrain in a few hours by using its rapid reaction forces.”
New threats over cleric’s trial
During 2016 Bahrain put senior cleric Isa Qassim on trial for a number of charges including improper use of religious taxes and money laundering. Iranian leaders responded with unusually strong attacks against Bahrain. Head of Quds Force Qassim Soleimani viciously attacked Bahrain’s ruling family and warned that there would be a “bloody Intifadah in Bahrain:
"The Al Khalifa surely know their aggression against Sheikh Isa Qassim is a red line that crossing it would set Bahrain and the whole region on fire, and it would leave no choice for people but to resort to armed resistance... Al Khalifa will definitely pay the price for that and their bloodthirsty regime will be toppled."
Iran’s Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, also issued a number of threatening statements:
“This pushes the Bahraini people to difficult choices which will have severe consequences for this corrupt dictatorial regime.”
False claims: “Bahrain is an Iranian province”
There has been a pattern of senior hardliners from Supreme Leader Khamenei’s inner circle falsely claiming that Bahrain should be part of Iran. In 2012 Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani, called for Bahrain’s “incorporation” into Iran. Hardline Iranian newspapers like Kayhan, which are close to the Supreme Leader have often written editorials inciting action against Bahrain and claiming Bahrain to be Iran’s “fourteenth province”. In 2007 Hussein Shariatmadari, Kayhan’s editor and advisor to the Supreme Leader, said that the “province” of Bahrain needed to be reunified with its “motherland” Iran.
Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri, the Inspector General in the office of the Supreme Leader in 2009 notoriously described Bahrain as Iran's fourteenth province:
"Bahrain was the 14th province of Iran until 1970."
MP Darioush Ghanbari in 2009 falsely claimed that if Bahrainis were to vote in a referendum they would choose to be part of Iran.
In 1971 Iran formally renounced any grounds for historic claims which it made upon Bahrain. This followed a UN referendum ahead of Bahrain’s independence which 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".
An analysis by the Gulf Centre for Strategic Studies found that over a two-year period (1024-16) more than 160 “antagonistic statements” were issued by Iranian officials against Bahrain; including at least six hostile statements by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who in 2015 described Bahrain’s leadership as a “tyrant minority” and said:
“The people of Yemen, Bahrain and Palestine are oppressed and Iran will support them with all its strength."
Inciting revolution in Bahrain
After the unrest in February 2011, Iranian leaders escalated their rhetoric against Bahrain. Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, chairman of the Guardian Council
"Brothers and sisters [in Bahrain]. Resist against the enemy until you die or win."
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared:
"Bitter events are taking place against the people in certain countries - against the dear people of Bahrain, in Yemen and in Libya… We hope that God almighty provides them with hasty relief and punishes the enemies of the nations."
Since 2011 Bahrain has been one of the primary subjects of discussion for Iranian propaganda media outlets like Al-Alam TV, Press TV, Al-Mayadeen TV and Al-Manar. Such channels maintained a round-the-clock barrage of untrue claims and sectarian incitement. Such was the levels of untruth propagated by these outlets that the broadcasting authority responsible for Al-Manar TV issued a formal apology.
In 1981 Ayatollah Khomeini’s “personal representative”, the naturalized Bahraini Hadi al-Mudarrisi, attempted to stage a coup overseen by the Tehran-based Office of the Liberation Movements, relying on proxy paramilitaries from across the region. Mudarrisi’s organization, the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain, failed in its attempt. However, Iran’s support for revolutionary Bahraini entities continued throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Actual Iranian support for terrorism in Bahrain
A recent Citizens for Bahrain report extensively catalogued the lengthy record of evidence for Iranian funding and support for terrorist entities in Bahrain; including sending shiploads of arms, training militants and logistical support for attacks which have killed over 20 policemen. A report issued at the same time by the Washington Institute concluded:
“On January 1, a prison break in Bahrain resulted in the escape of ten Shiite detainees, all convicted of serious militancy offenses. The well-planned operation, in which attackers carrying assault rifles killed a guard, is one of many indicators that Iranian-backed Shiite cells are becoming much more dangerous after at least four years of escalated training and equipping by Tehran.”
US National Intelligence Director James Clapper in his 2014 Worldwide Threat Assessment, concluded:
"Iran will continue to provide arms and other aid to Palestinian groups, rebels in Yemen and Shia militants in Bahrain to expand Iranian influence and to counter perceived foreign threats."
These brief examples show a consistent pattern of Iranian threats and incitement, twinned with actual support for terrorism and unrest in Bahrain. The US Administration’s readiness to take specific steps in response to Iran’s aggressive interference in the region is thus welcome and necessary. The fact that Iran is threatening attacks against US facilities in Bahrain reinforces the solidarity of our two nations against such threats which deserve to be treated seriously and receive an appropriate response.