In "Countries Threatened with Extinction," I reviewed five cases of endangered states – Kuwait, Bahrain, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel. The Kuwait is over for now, the Israeli one is too well known to go over here, the Lebanese and Jordanian are in abeyance, leaving Bahrain as the key threatened state of the moment, the one that could wake up one fine day to find itself occupied. So, this weblog entry follows its career.
For the moment, even the Iranian claim to Bahrain is shelved, reports the Saudi newspaper, Arab News: .
Iran yesterday moved to defuse a row with Bahrain, saying it respects the sovereignty of the neighboring Gulf kingdom, which has halted talks on a natural gas imports deal with Tehran. "Our position on Bahrain is clear. We have repeatedly said that we respect the sovereignty and independence of all neighboring countries and the region, especially Bahrain," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Ghashghavi told Arabic language state television Al-Alam.
"We do not have eyes on any country. This is a storm created by the media. Nateq Noori did not refer to Bahrain," Ghashghavi said in his statement to Al-Alam. "In his speech in Mashhad he talked about the achievement of the Islamic revolution and compared them to the era of the hated monarchy. He did not talk at all of current global, regional and political issues."
On Feb. 11, a day after Nateq Noori's speech, Iran's Khorasan newspaper quoted him as saying in his address that "under Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, this useless king, one of our provinces which has now become a country named Bahrain was taken away from us. At that time Bahrain was our 14th province and had a representative in Parliament." (February 20, 2009)
Bahrain has strongly protested recent comments of Ali Akber Nateq Noori, a prominent conservative leader and member of Iran's expediency council — the top arbitration body — that the Gulf kingdom used to be Iran's 14th governorate and had a representative in its Parliament.
(February 20, 2009)
Mar. 2, 2009 update: In contrast, Israel's Intelligence and Terrorism Information reports that the Iran-Bahrain situation flared up again last month:
In the middle of February 2009, Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri, office supervisor and advisor to the Supreme Leader Khamenei, said that before Bahrain received independence in 1970, it was Iran's 14th province, and was even represented in the Iranian parliament (Majlis). His remark provoked stormy reactions in Bahrain and led to another crisis in Bahraini-Iranian relations, which has since been settled. The incident reflects the tensions between Iran and the Arab world, its ethnic polarization (evident in Bahrain's social structure) and its confusion of identities – Persian and Iranian, Sunni and Shi'ite – all urgent issues on the Middle East agenda, as is the volatile Israeli-Palestinian confrontation.
Oct. 6, 2011 update: The Wall Street Journal Europe has a major piece on "Iran's Bahraini Ambitions" by Mitchell A. Belfer, editor of the Central European Journal of International and Security Studies. Belfer argues that "Bahrain is the victim of a long cycle of intrigue and interference aimed at replacing the moderate and modernizing Khalifa regime with a theocracy under Tehran's thumb." He writes of
Tehran's long history of working to upset Bahrain's domestic stability. Since Iran's 1979 revolution, the country's leaders have assumed that their revolution represents the aspirations of Shiites throughout the Mideast. That is why they have worked to undermine the Sunni Khalifa family's legitimacy in Bahrain by promoting an ideology of Shiite empowerment. When Nateq Nuri, advisor to Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, claimed Bahrain as Iran's "14th province" in 2009, he was only restating well-worn rhetoric from the revolution 30 years prior.
Today there is an intimidating imbalance of power between Iran and Bahrain. Iran's standing military numbers 510,000—roughly two-thirds of Bahrain's entire population. Bahrain would have little to worry about if Iran were content merely to grandstand and make threatening noises. But Tehran has taken concrete steps over the last 30 years to destabilize and de-legitimize Bahrain's leadership, both directly and through proxies.
The article then documents those 30 years of Iranian subversion. Belfer concludes:
Thirty years of intransigence reveal the extent of Tehran's determination to turn Bahrain into an Iranian satellite. So Iran's machinations during this year's protests should have had the international community rushing to support Bahrain, not ostracize it.
Mar. 21, 2016 update: General Saeed Qasemi, a commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the commander of Ansar Hezbollah, and a figure close to Supreme Leader Khamene'i, wants to annex Bahrain: "Bahrain is an Iranian province that was detached from the Islamic Republic of Iran due to the Western colonialism. Iran must make efforts to bring Bahrain back into Iranian territory and transform it into a part of Bushehr province."