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7/17/07

First Israel, Now Bahrain: Irrational provocations in Iran's Foreign Policy

By Nader Habibi

 

In light of the mounting U.S. hostilities and the ongoing danger of a U.S. military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, one would expect Iran to avoid any unnecessary provocation in its relations with the international community. Yet, on several occasions in recent years, Iranian officials and state-controlled media have made highly provocative statements, which cannot be justified as being beneficial to Iran's foreign policy objectives.

 

During 2006 and 2007 President Ahmadinejad made several statements about Israel and Holocaust which were immediately picked up by Western media as evidence of Iran's hostile intentions toward Israel. These statements were used by several American and European politicians to argue that Iran cannot be trusted with any type of nuclear technology. President Ahmadinejad's questioning of Holocaust and of Israel's right to exist as an independent nation in the Middle East, have caused significant damage to Iran's image. They have also made it easier for the United States to obtain international support for economic sanctions against Iran.

 

The international condemnation of these statements has not been limited the United States and Israel. The European countries and many developing countries have also condemned them. Even the Arab countries that are locked in a decades-long conflict with Israel did not offer any support for these statements. In an open letter to Mr. Ahmadinejad on December 2006, the Palestinian activist Mahmoud al-Sadafi announced that denial of Holocaust was a disservice to the Palestinian struggle. (1) This letter was released in response to Iran's sponsorship of a conference on Holocaust in late 2006 which also provoked worldwide condemnation.

 

In another unnecessary provocation the Kayhan newspaper, which is closely linked to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenie, published a commentary about Bahrain which immediately led to protests and official condemnations by Bahraini government. In this commentary the editor of Kayhan, Hossein Shariatmadari, claimed that majority of Bahraini citizens want their country to be reunited with Iran. (A majority of Bahrain's population is shia and some are of Iranian origin.) He also questioned the legitimacy of the British-Iranian negotiations that led to Bahrain's independence in 1970 after being under British protection for decades.   These statements were made in response to the latest Gulf Cooperation Council's statement of support for the UAE's claim to three disputed Islands in Persian Gulf. These islands are currently under Iranian control.  The article further argued that in light of the historical ties of Bahrain (a member of GCC) with Iran, it should not have supported this declaration.

 

The strong response of Bahrain and other GCC countries to this July 9th article took the Iranian government by surprise. Mr. Shariatmadari should have realized that when he claims that a majority of Bahrainis want to be part of Iran, Bahraini officials interpret this statement as a reference to the Shiite segment of their population and consider it an attempt to stir up ethnic trouble. It is then no wonder that they are reacting with such a severity.

 

In an effort to prevent this controversy from damaging its fragile relations with GCC countries Iran sent the foreign minister, Manouchehr Motakki to Bahrain on July 15th. The government further distanced itself from the article and announced that it has no territorial claims to Bahrain and fully respects its sovereignty.

 

The July 9th article was an unnecessary provocation that should have been avoided. It comes at a time when Iran and the United States are both competing for the attention of GCC countries. The United States is trying to convince these countries that they need to join Egypt and Jordan in forming an alliance against the growing influence of Iran in the Middle East. Through repeated visits to GCC capitals in recent months Iranian officials have tried to convince the GCC countries that Iran poses no threat to them and discourage them from joining an anti-Iranian alliance with the United States. 

 

Unfortunately while the government of Iran is trying to control the damage from this article, Mr. Shariatmadari has defended his claims in a follow up article (2)    In this article he also shames the GCC governments for their close ties with the United States and  betrayal of the Palestinian struggle. While such statements might appeal to the radical segments of Arab populations, they will further alienate the GCC governments from Iran. In order to preserve its nuclear program and its territorial integrity in these critical times, Iran must avoid all unnecessary provocations in its international relations. 

 

1) See: http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/article2062488.ece  

2) See:  Kayhanint.com "What Are You Up to?! ", July 17, 2007) .  

 

About the author: Nader Habibi is a faculty of Crown Center for Middle East Studies and Department of Economics at Brandeis University. (nhabibi@brandies.edu)

... Payvand News - 7/17/07 ... --



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