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 A look at Iran-Bahrain relations: Is peace possible?

Photo: TDC

Iran-Bahrain relations have always been associated with many ups and downs throughout history During this time the two countries repeatedly cut ties between them and then revived it again.  The conflict between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, two regional actors, often affects relations between other countries in the region, especially Bahrain. Most of Bahrain’s population is made up of Shiites close to Iran, but the government is made up of Sunni religious people who are more dependent on Saudi Arabia . So it can be said that the main reason for the disagreement between the two countries is the political and religious beliefs between them, as well as the important role of Saudi Arabia in this regard .In 2016, after the execution of Sheikh Baqir al-Nimr, a Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia, there were widespread protests among the Iranian people in protest against the Saudi government’s move, as a result of which people attacked the country’s diplomatic missions and demanded that relations with the Saudi government be severed . This eventually happened, and relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia were severed . Immediately, the Bahraini government, in support of the Saudi government, decided to sever relations with Tehran .After 8 years, the Bahraini government made a serious decision to revive relations with Tehran, and the king of the country, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, officially mentioned this in a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He said there was no longer a reason to postpone the resumption of diplomatic relations between the kingdom of Bahrain and Iran. Bahrain’s decision comes after Iran-Saudi relations returned to normal .However it seems that the return of relations between Iran and Bahrain will still be challenging As mentioned, most of Bahrain’s population is made up of Shiite Muslims, and since Iran considers itself the leader of Shiites around the world, it tends to support their political demands. Human rights groups have long said there is systematic discrimination against Shiite Muslims in Bahrain who have been sidelined from key government posts and security forces. In the past few decades, Bahrain’s Shiite population has made several attempts to challenge the Sunni Al Khalifa regime, from a failed coup to street demonstrations.  The post-2011 protests caused the government to act more aggressively, leading to the resignation of 18 Shiite representatives and the closure of important Shiite communities.
This situation illustrates the rift between the Al Khalifa government and the Shiite community. Iran’s influence among Shiites and caliph Al’s concern for this reason makes it more difficult to fill the gap Manama maintains that Tehran provides shelter to the wanted and accuses the IRGC of supporting terrorist groups such as the camel battalions and the al-Mukhtar battalions. An issue that Iran has always denied and believes is only concerned with human rights issues, especially Shiite rights . Iran seems to be still a supporter of the country’s Shiites. Another issue is the dependence of Bahrain’s foreign policy on Saudi Arabia, which is the most important foreign element of Iran-Bahrain relations. Manama is subject to Riyadh’s policies and follows the Saudi line against regional events such as the 2017 siege of Qatar and the severing of relations with Iran in 2016. Indeed, among members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, no country relies on Saudi Arabia as much as Bahrain. The lack of an independent strategy in dealing with Iran is another challenge for Iran-Bahrain relations.
The Bahrain-Israel relationship and the signing of Ibrahim’s 2020 agreement is a vital issue between the two sides. Iran considers Israel its most important security threat. Military cooperation with Tel Aviv has raised Iranian suspicions that Bahrain will become a spy Center on the country’s southern maritime borders, and could lead to an Iranian military response if the issue escalates.  Bahrain has been interested in working with Israel’s security and intelligence services. Israel has also provided Bahrain with drones as well as anti-drone systems. Iran has shown after carrying out mass attacks on Israeli soil that it will respond decisively to the regime’s threats Another challenge in relations between Iran and Bahrain is the presence of the Fifth Fleet of the US Army. If Iran’s proxy model in Bahrain succeeds,
Washington will fear similar experience from Iraq and Syria where Iran’s allies have targeted US bases hundreds of times . So it’s natural that the United States is concerned about establishing relations between Iran and Bahrain . Despite these challenges, the two countries ‘ officials are hopeful about the future. And they’re trying to build relations between the two countries . Among these efforts is the visit of an Iranian delegation headed by Ali Alizadeh a member of the national security and foreign policy committee of the parliament to Bahrain within the framework of the meetings of the Asian Parliamentary Assembly. Iranian MP Ilham Azad also announced that an agreement has been reached with Bahrain’s parliament speaker Ahmad bin Salman Al-Muslim to resume diplomatic relations and reopen the embassies of the two countries soon.  The speaker of the Bahraini parliament stressed the need to resume flights between Iran and Bahrain. After the Iranian President and foreign minister were killed in an air accident that affected and upset all the Iranian people, Bahrain sent its foreign minister to Tehran to pay tribute to the late Iranian President and foreign minister.
The most important factor that we can hope for Iran-Bahrain relations is the foreign policy strategy of the Iranian government led by Ebrahim Raisi, the late president of Iran. He believed in building bridges with neighboring countries. Over time, this policy was addressed and it was not just words and actions. 28 trips to 23 countries during the 34-month presidency are testament to that government’s commitment to repairing fences and building bridges. Countries such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain realized the true intention and honest approach of the Iranian government in reviving relations, even refusing to take hasty positions. Tensions between Iran and neighboring countries, including Bahrain, have eased as a result. Positive and growing relations between Iran and Bahrain can contribute a lot to peace and stability in the Middle East region. We’ll have to wait and see what happens in the future.
By Amir Mojtahedi

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