The leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran is publicly committed to good relations with Bahrain. And yet Tehran’s campaign to undermine the ruling authorities in Manama continues unabated. The latest incendiary reactions from Tehran came in response to the January 15 executions in Bahrain of three men who had been convicted of killing three police officers in 2014.
Across the political spectrum in Tehran, the reactions to the executions were noisy and represented cases of direct meddling in Bahrain’s internal affairs. At the Foreign Ministry level, ostensibly under the control of the moderate faction of President Hassan Rouhani, a warning was issued against Bahrain. The spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry, Bahram Ghasemi, forewarned Manama that “a political impasse with no ends visible in the horizon” is looming over Bahrain.
Ayatollah Ali Eslami, a member of Iran’s Assembly of Experts, claimed that the “real perpetrators [behind the executions] are Saudi Arabia, Britain and the United Arab Emirates.” The ayatollah provided no evidence for this claim and merely engaged in standard incrimination of countries that Tehran has troubled relations with.
Elsewhere other Iranian state actors facilitated the expression of far more ominous warnings. Tasnim news, an outlet under the control of the IRGC, ran an extensive interview with the spokesperson of the Bahraini Shiite opposition Al-Wafa’a Islamic Party. The spokesperson, Morteza al-Sandi, reportedly said that “the Bahraini people have the right to use any means even arms” against the authorities.
Such cases of incitement of the Bahrain Shiite are occurring at the same time as Tehran rejects repeated Bahraini charges of undue meddling in its affairs. For example, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, a former ambassador to Bahrain and a man who is close to Iran’s Qods Force (the external branch of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps), has again maintained that Iran has only “provided spiritual support for the [Bahraini] uprising.”
And yet, in June 2016, the head of the Qods Force, Qassem Soleimani, in an unprecedented statement threatened Manama that “soon the [Shiites] of Bahrain will have no recourse but armed resistance.” Such statements by Iranian state actors are without doubt fuelling the sectarian tensions between the Shiite and Sunni segments of the Bahraini population.