BAHRAIN: Spat erupts with Iran over cleric’s boast


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A huge spat has broken out between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain over comments made by an Iranian cleric earlier this month claiming dominion over the island nation.

Ali Akbar Natiq Nuri, an advisor to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, claimed Bahrain was an integral part of Iran that was conceded by Iran’s Shah Mohammad-Reza Pahlavi. Bahrain received its independence from the British in 1971, but had been ruled by Iran on and off over the last couple of millenniums.


Bahrain made it crystal clear that it did not tolerate any statements undermining its sovereignty. In the last few days, Bahrain suspended talks over the importation of natural gas from the Islamic Republic and barred Iranian ships from reaching its shores, according to media reports.

Meanwhile, Iranians backtracked by reaffirming their full recognition of Bahraini sovereignty.

But the recent row between Manama and Tehran is deeply rooted. Bahrain is a predominantly Muslim Shiite nation ruled by a minority of Sunni Muslims. This small Arab state, which relies on tourism from more conservative neighboring countries, regularly accuses Iranians of stirring up opposition in the ranks of Bahraini Shiites.

Government opposition figures in Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, regularly assert that authorities have been clamping down on the political rights of Shiites in the country. Sectarian violence is repeatedly reported in Bahrain.

The German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported Friday that Iranian shipping vessels had been asked to leave Bahraini territorial waters. A Bahraini official who spoke on condition of anonymity told DPA that “no Iranian vessel will be allowed in until further notice.”

This comes after Bahrain decided to halt negotiations to import 1 billion cubic feet of gas per day from Iran through a new pipeline.


Bahraini newspaper Al Ayam wrote recently that, ‘the decision … shows Bahrain’s vexation with the [Iranian] claims regarding Bahrain that are affecting bilateral relations and cooperation in various areas, mainly energy and economy.”

Iranian officials tried to underplay earlier comments in apparent attempts to save the lucrative gas deal with Bahrain. Iran’s envoy to Bahrain, Hussein Amir Abdullahyan, asserted on Friday that Iran was looking to strengthen relations with its neighbors, according to the Iranian Press TV website.

Abdullahyan stressed that Bahrain is an independent country and that is the official stand of the Islamic Republic, the website said.

Bahrain may have no choice but to eventually make amends. The reason: It’s got no natural gas, and its gas-rich Arab neighbors have already committed their supplies to other countries. Bahrain needs Iran to keep its industries running.

-- Raed Rafei in Beirut

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