Last weekend Bahrain concluded a successful first round of parliamentary and municipal elections with a high voter turnout, despite attempts by Iranian-backed Shi’ite movements to disrupt the polling.
These were the first elections in Bahrain since a failed protest against the monarchy in 2011. Some Shi’ite movements called for a boycott of the poll to protest against the Sunni King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, but most of the Shi’ite majority monarchy’s citizens who were eligible to vote participated in the poll.
Bahrain has repeatedly accused Iran, which is located just across the Persian Gulf, of backing the Shiite opposition. On Tuesday, Bahrain denounced (Arabic link) the recurrent Iranian intrusions into the Kingdom’s internal affairs, saying: “Enough of your lies and interferences.”
Iran sees Bahrain as a target for intervention and subversion as the Gulf kingdom, beyond being economically important for Tehran, retains a tenuous sociopolitical structure, with a Shi’ite majority population ruled by a Sunni minority monarchy that is allied to Saudi Arabia and supports the U.S.
Bahraini authorities’ claims concerning Iranian interference are based on Iran’s intensive incitements of Bahrain’s Shi’ite citizens to overthrow the monarchy. Despite its position across the Persian Gulf, Tehran claims sovereignty over the tiny kingdom, calling it “Iran’s 14th province”. The regional upheavals in the past four years intensified both the Shi’ite majority protests against the Sunni regime, as well as Iranian efforts to destabilize it.
Iran’s support of violent insurgencies within local Shi’ite populations in the Middle East is carried out either directly or via proxies such as Lebanese Hezbollah and Shi’ite Iraqi militias, which are used as subcontractors. Only last year, Bahraini authorities announced that they exposed a terrorist cell run by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards. According to the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center:
The cell’s operatives had been involved in shooting policemen and were planning to assassinate public figures and carry out terrorist attacks on various sensitive targets, among them the King Fahd Bridge (which links Bahrain to Saudi Arabia), Bahrain International Airport and the ministry of the interior. Two affairs preceded the exposure: in November 2012 five suspects were detained on suspicion of placing IEDs which exploded in various locations in Manama, and at the beginning of November 2011 a terrorist cell was captured who members had been planning to carry out showcase attacks in Bahrain and attack important facilities… The terrorist cells are part of Iran’s comprehensive, ongoing efforts at subversion and terrorism, sometimes carried out with the assistance of Hezbollah, its Lebanese proxy. Their efforts have accelerated in the past two years, the result of the upheaval in the Arab world.
Its attempted interference in the Bahraini elections reveal that exploiting the Shi’ite community in Bahrain for subversion is a part of the Iranian foreign policy.
Last year, Bahrain passed legislation declaring Hezbollah- Iran’s proxy- a terrorist group due to its support of an anti-government uprising.
[Photo: Allan Donque / Flickr]