Iran’s Views on Bahrain’s Uprising

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Behzad Khoshandam
PhD Student in International Relations

Freedom seeking developments in Bahrain have drawn more attention from Iran’s public opinion and politicians than developments in other Middle Eastern countries as the general spirit of the confrontation of Arabs and the United States with Iran is manifested in it.

Iran’s approach to popular protests in Bahrain has been different from most regional powers (other than Iraq) and the majority of transregional players. Iran’s policy in Bahrain is based on supporting people’s freedom and democracy seeking movement and opposing the current violent treatment of Bahraini citizens by Al-Khalifa government and intervention of foreign troops in that country.

Iran has been using diplomatic means in the region as well as international mechanisms such as the United Nations and the world public opinion in line with its approach to attract support for Bahraini protestors.

There are many reasons for Iran’s sensitivity toward Bahrain which include historical background of both countries, the fact that a Shia majority is governed by Sunni rulers, small area and population of the country, strategic situation of Bahrain, and its special strategic relations with Saudi Arabia and other big powers. It should be noted that there is a lot of difference between the approach taken by the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council and big regional powers toward freedom seeking developments in Bahrain and Iran’s approach. The contrast between Iran’s viewpoint and those of Saudi Arabia and the United States deserves more attention.

Bahrain is home to the United States’ Fifth Naval Fleet and plays the role of an aircraft carrier to support US interests in the Persian Gulf. US military presence in Bahrain is at odds with Iran’s vital national interest, especially Tehran’s strategic values and approaches. It seems that the United States is trying to foster anti-Iranian current in the region to secure its national interests in Bahrain. Obama’s invasive reaction to Iran’s policy in Bahrain during his Middle Eastern address on Thursday, May 19, 2011, was clearly indicative of US opposition to Iran’s policies and approaches to developments in Bahrain.

The main discord between Iran, on the one hand, and (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council and the United States, on the other hand, is Iran’s emphasis on no intervention in Bahrain’s sovereignty and the right of self-determination as well as respect for good neighborhood policies.

Therefore, Iran has been a regular critic of intervention by the Peninsula Shield Force through mandate of the (P)GCC and the use of the iron fist policy. Tehran has also called for more attention from Bahraini government to civil demands of that country’s people.

Therefore, recent freedom seeking developments in Bahrain have turned into an arena for strengthening and balancing Iran’s influence with that of other regional and transregional powers in the Persian Gulf.

As such, the role played by transregional and foreign forces may prevent Iran from reaping short-term strategic and value-based profits in Bahrain, but in the medium and long run, Iran will be possible strategic winner of freedom seeking developments in Bahrain. The most important evidence backing this claim is popular nature and domestic roots of the uprising and influence of Iran’s people and government among Bahraini counterparts. Such a scenario may change the balance of power as well as future outlook for presence of transregional forces in the Persian Gulf and the whole Middle East and increase Iran’s strategic clout in the region.