Citing increasing Iranian interference in Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) affairs, Bahraini officials are calling on GCC states to unify efforts to repel Iran's attempts to undermine security and stability in the region.
"Iranian interference has become more explicit and obvious through the hostile statements toward Bahrain made by senior Iranian officials that deliberately play the sectarian card," Bahrain’s Interior Minister Lt. Gen. Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa said during a meeting with representatives of civil society organisations on September 29th.
"These desperate attempts will not undermine national unity," he said.
The number of Iranian statements hostile to Bahrain totaled 124 from January through August alone, according to the Interior Minister.
"Not to mention the harbouring of wanted individuals, and the planning, instigation and training operations, as well as the smuggling of weapons and explosives and the funding that these activities require," he said.
Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa on September 26th delivered Bahrain’s speech before the UN General Assembly in New York in which he criticised Iran’s "irresponsible sectarian discourse" and "damage done to our bilateral and collective relations with it".
"We still face Iran’s attempts to jeopardise our security and social peace through the support it provides to groups and militias affiliated with it such as the terrorist Hizbullah [group in Lebanon] and other Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) offshoots," he said in his speech.
He urged Iran to "change its foreign policies comprehensively and put an end to its hostile policies and show an open attitude toward our countries, thus paving the way for the region to enter a new era of stability and development."
The Iranian government’s interference in the affairs of GCC countries has reached its limit, said Bahrain Consultative Council member Khamis al-Rumaihi.
"The Iranian leadership must understand well that its control over some Arab countries will not last forever," he told Al-Mashareq.
"The six Gulf states and a large number of Arab and Islamic countries are aware of the threats posed by Tehran and its ambitions for regional dominance and we have sufficient capabilities to repel any Iranian interference in the region," he said. "No matter how much Iran tries to interfere, it will certainly fail."
The issue also came up at the 13th summit of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) held in Istanbul in April.
In its final communique, the conference "deplored Iran’s interference in the internal affairs" of GCC member states and others in the region "and its continued support for terrorism".
Spreading discord in the region
Salman Naser, head of the Human Rights Activists Group in Bahrain, said Iran's constitution allows for the worst sectarian acts and extremist practices.
"The Wilayat al-Faqih [doctrine] undertook the oppression of the Iranian people and works to plant armed militias and support them to destabilise the security of the region, particularly the Gulf region and Bahrain specifically," he told Al-Mashareq. "It plays the sectarian card, especially since it is no longer a secret to anyone that [Iranian-backed] terrorist cells have been uncovered in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait."
Nasser said it has become evident to the entire world that "the Iranian regime is not founded on good neighbourliness and diplomatic relations".
"Rather it is based on fueling sectarianism, spreading discord and extremism, and spurring internal conflagration among peoples," he said.
He pointed to several examples including in Lebanon where Iran "planted Hizbullah as a state within a state", and in Yemen "with the role of the Houthis and their attempt to subsume the Yemeni state".
No country in the region has been spared from Iran’s blatant interferences and support of terrorist militias, Naser said, and this requires a firm stand against the Iranian expansion being undertaken.
Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, executive director of the Isa Cultural Centre, said Iran has exploited historical vulnerabilities and used ideological extremism to achieve its expansionist goals.
In turn, he said, the exploitation of sectarianism has spawned the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) and other outlawed groups.
"Through the exploitation of those vulnerabilities and conflicts, Iran aims to destroy the concept of national state and belonging to the homeland and the land, and this by disseminating the values of sectarian fanaticism," he told Al-Mashareq.
"The security of the Arab region is closely linked to fighting extremism and terrorism, which are the main causes that lead to wars," he said, adding that Iran must rein in its efforts to further ignite the fuse of extremism and sectarianism.