Wall Street Journal: Bahrain gave its sternest warning yet to Iran to keep out of its affairs, saying an escalation in the two countries’ dispute over Bahrain’s recent crackdown on political unrest could even lead to “conflict.”
The Wall Street Journal
By ALEX DELMAR-MORGAN
MANAMA—Bahrain gave its sternest warning yet to Iran to keep out of its affairs, saying an escalation in the two countries’ dispute over Bahrain’s recent crackdown on political unrest could even lead to “conflict.”
The threat from Iran could increase “to any level” at a time of deep divisions between Iran and its Arab neighbors in the Persian Gulf region, Bahrain’s foreign minister Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa said in an interview.
“They could make mistakes in causing a conflict,” Sheik Khalid said. “The campaign against us from Iran at this stage is political, but it could have a different posture at any time,” he added.
Iran has denounced Bahrain’s decision to allow Saudi troops into the country as it moved last week to suppress a mainly Shiite protest movement calling for the downfall of the monarchy.
After the arrival of 1,000 Saudi Arabian troops and 500 police from the United Arab Emirates, Sunni-ruled Bahrain launched a violent crackdown, driving demonstrators from the streets of the capital and rounding up the mainly Shiite opposition leaders in dawn raids on their homes.
For its part, Bahrain has stepped up accusations that Tehran is behind the protests, with the country’s ruler King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on Sunday saying that the government had foiled a decades-long terror plot by outsiders, a thinly veiled reference to Iran.
The war of words has fueled growing tensions in the Persian Gulf region between the Sunni-ruled Arab states and Shiite heavyweight Iran, which is already a supporter of Shiite movements in Iraq and Lebanon.
Sheik Khalid said regional tensions obliged the government to take measures to protect itself. “We take our security seriously. There is a serious fault in this region between Iran and its neighbors,” he said.
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has called Bahrain’s crackdown on protesters “foul,” while a senior Iranian cleric on Friday urged Bahrain’s majority Shiites to keep up their protests against the Sunni monarchy. Last week, Iran withdrew its ambassador from the strategic Gulf state, which hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet, and Bahrain has pulled out its senior diplomats from Tehran.
In a reference to the antigovernment protests that have taken place in Iran, Sheik Khalid said the government in Tehran had problems of its own.
“They have a serious problem in their own country and they should deal with it and leave us alone,” he said.
Sheik Khalid also rebuked the Shiite group Hezbollah, which on Monday said it supported the Bahraini protesters and criticized Arab states for backing Bahrain’s rulers while supporting the rebels in Libya. He said the Lebanese militant group remained a “threat” to the Gulf state.
The foreign minister strongly denied suggestions that Saudi troops were involved in the crackdown on demonstrators, and said their job was to protect Bahrain from “external” threats while the Bahraini police and the army cleared the protesters from the streets. “Our back needed to be protected,” Sheik Khalid said.
He said the unrest in Bahrain stemmed from a sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shiites on the island, countering the protesters, who say the uprising reflects the demands of all Bahrainis for more representative government.
“The sectarian divide is serious,” Sheik Khalid said. “It’s a terrible situation to deal with two groups that have hated each other for 1,400 years.”