May 7, 2013 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 965

Arab World Precedent: Bahrain Adds Hizbullah To List Of Terrorist Organizations

May 7, 2013 | By R. Goldberg*
Bahrain, Lebanon, Bangladesh, Bangladesh | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 965


On April 7, 2013, the Bahraini government approved a proposal by parliament to compile a list of terrorist organizations and to enter Hizbullah onto it, and ordered the interior and foreign ministries to take steps to implement this resolution. This is an unprecedented move in the Arab world, which comes after the exposure of terrorist cells and attacks in Bahrain that are attributed to this Lebanese Shi'ite organization, and following Shi'ite protests in the kingdom that began in February 2011, which the Bahraini government claimed had been guided and funded by Iran and Hizbullah.

The Bahraini authorities' fear of involvement in the country by Hizbullah and Iran stems from their fear that Iran could use Bahrain's largely Shi'ite population to take over the country and make it an "Iranian province." In this context, it should be mentioned that a July 2007 article published by the editor of the Iranian daily Kayhan, Hossein Shariatmadari, stated, among other things, that "Bahrain is part of Iran's soil, having been separated from it through an illegal conspiracy [spawned] by... Shah [Pahlavi, in conjunction with] the American and British governments. The principal demand of the Bahraini people today is to return this province, which was separated from Iran, to its mother, Islamic Iran..."[1]

The Bahraini government press praised Hizbullah's inclusion in the list of terrorist organizations and saw it as "the fulfillment of a popular demand;" conversely, the Shi'ite opposition, led by the Al-Wefaq movement, condemned the move, claiming that the Bahraini regime is the one that uses terrorism against the Bahraini people and against those demanding reforms. It should be mentioned that Iran also condemned the Bahraini move, but Hizbullah itself has yet to comment.

Following the Bahraini decision, voices were heard calling for the other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to take a similar step, and the Bahraini parliament speaker disclosed that such a move is, in fact, being considered.

Bahraini Authorities: Iran And Hizbullah Behind Shi'ite Terrorist Elements In Bahrain

Since 2011, mass Shi'ite protests have been taking place in Bahrain against the Sunni Al-Khalifa regime and in demand of political reforms. The Bahraini regime does not see these protests as an authentic expression of popular demands, but rather as a blatant interference by Iran in Bahrain's internal affairs, meant to topple the regime and transform Bahrain into an extension of Iran. In the same vein, Bahrain accuses Hizbullah of acting on Iranian orders to destabilize the country. In April 2011, two months after the start of the protests, the Bahraini government sent a report to the UN secretary-general accusing the Shi'ite Hizbullah of striving to topple the Bahraini royal family and of training Bahraini opposition activists in Lebanese and Iranian camps. The report claimed that Bahraini Shi'ite opposition officials had met with Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah and other officials in the organization.[2] The Al-Wefaq opposition movement denied these accusations in a statement: "[The demands for political reform] have been made for a long time and did not emerge in the recent period, nor are they motivated by any external element."[3]

Hizbullah and Iran have often been accused of working to destabilize Bahrain. The Bahraini press has reported on the exposure of Iranian espionage and terrorism cells that planned attacks on vital Bahraini and U.S. installations in the country. Thus, for example, in November 2011, the Qatari interior ministry announced the discovery of a terrorist cell tied to the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which had planned to carry out various attacks in Bahrain, including on the Saudi embassy and the King Fahd Bridge, which connects Bahrain to Saudi Arabia.[4] The daily Al-Emarat Al-Yawm revealed that the cell members had received military training from an individual affiliated with the IRGC and the Iranian Basij.[5] Several months later, in July 2012, the Bahraini authorities accused Hizbullah of orchestrating the escalation of violence in the country and of planting 100-kg bombs that were discovered in Bahrain.[6]

officers gathering evidence following November 6, 2012 bombing in Manama (image: Al–, November 8, 2012)

In November 2012 several blasts occurred in the Bahraini capital of Manama, which killed several Asian foreign laborers. Here as well the Bahraini authorities pointed the finger at Hizbullah, claiming that the explosives carried the organization's "fingerprints." Following the blasts, Bahraini Information Minister Samira Rajab said: "The blasts were carried out by terrorist groups that were trained outside the country and were based in several countries, including Lebanon."[7] Several months later, in February 2013, the Bahraini authorities announced the apprehension of a terrorist cell of eight members, all Bahraini, called Jaysh Al-Imam.[8] According to the Bahraini interior minister, the members of the cell had been trained in IRGC bases in Iran and Hizbullah bases in Iraq, and had planned to carry out attacks on vital and sensitive sites in Bahrain, including American ones, and also target Bahraini officials to destabilize the country's security and economy.[9]

Bahraini Government Spokeswoman: Adding Hizbullah To List Of Terrorist Organizations – A Vital Move To Protect Bahrain

On April 7, 2013, the Bahraini government approved the parliamentary proposal, submitted on March 26, 2013 by MP Jassem Al-Sa'idi, to compile a list of terrorist organizations which would include Hizbullah.[10]

Addressing the government's decision, Information Minister and Government Spokeswoman Samira Rajab told journalists that Bahrain operates according to international standards in order to protect itself from terrorism, and that the government had "taken a step forward in protecting Bahrain against terrorist organizations" and had "charged the authorized bodies to take decisive steps against these dangerous organizations." She also mentioned the international list of terrorist organizations, and stated that Bahrain is benefitting from global experience in this matter.[11]

After the proposal was approved, the government instructed the interior and foreign ministries to take steps to implement it.[12] The chairman of the Foreign Affairs, Defense, and National Security Committee in the Bahraini Shura Council, Dr. Khalid bin Khalifa Aal-Khalifa, clarified that even after the government's approval of the proposal, the authorities do not yet have the tools to implement it and deal with civilians accused of having ties to designated organizations, since there is still "a constitutional void" in this matter. In other words, legislators have yet to draft laws setting out penalties for these offenses.[13]

The language of the law has not been made public, but some information about it can be gleaned from a press conference held by several MPs on April 3, 2013, before the proposal was approved. MP Al-Sa'idi said at the press conference that the proposal would designate Hizbullah as a terrorist organization, and set penalties for any civilian found to have ties with this organization or to have traveled to South Lebanon to receive paramilitary training.[14] After the press conference, the MPs issued an announcement stating that Hizbullah was an arm of Iran in exporting the Islamic Revolution. They added that they had submitted their request to designate it a terrorist organizations after members of terrorist cells captured in Bahrain had confessed to training in South Lebanon, and also because Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV promotes sectarian tensions in Bahrain and calls to topple the regime there. The MPs called on other Gulf states to take similar steps.[15]

Bahraini Officials, Press: A Courageous Step Reflecting The People's Will

Various elements in Bahrain praised the parliament's decision, which they described as a response to popular demands and called to implement it swiftly. They stressed the danger that Hizbullah poses to Bahrain, the Gulf states, and other Arab countries as a terrorist organization that, they said, works to damage the stability and security of those countries.

In an article in the Bahraini daily Al-Watan, columnist Yousef Al-Benkhalil praised the decision: "[This is] a decision that we have been awaiting for over a decade, the purpose of which is to distinguish political organizations from terrorist ones. This, after Bahrain and the Middle East suffered [a state of] anarchy that made the distinction between terrorism [on the one hand] and [legitimate] protest and political demands [on the other] very difficult... Yesterday the parliament met a long-standing popular demand by approving [the instatement of] a Bahraini terrorist organization list and placing Hizbullah at the top of it. This is a courageous move and has been implemented, even if at a considerable delay. MPs should look at Bahraini organizations that are no less terroristic and dangerous to Bahraini national security than Hizbullah, and add them to the list as well. Furthermore, it is important to approve legislation punishing anyone tied to these organizations, whether through membership, funding, or activity. This [terrorist] list and other strategic tactics are important if we truly want to eliminate the Wilayat Al-Faqih [i.e., Iranian] terrorism that the kingdom has suffered for over 30 years."[16]

Another columnist, Sa'id Al-Hamad, supported the decision in his column in the Bahraini daily Al-Ayyam, and attacked Hizbullah: "We are talking of an uncontroversial fact... The Lebanese Hizbullah has more or less confessed to its involvement in many terrorist attacks that cost dozens of lives in many [countries], including Arab, European, and even Latin American, African, and Asian [countries]... The organization, which was founded by Iran and the Khomeini regime in the early 1980s, was established as an outright military organization whose founding and training were supervised by the IRGC... Hizbullah believes [that its operations must] not be limited to Lebanese territory, which is why it has disseminated the slogan of 'the Nation of Hizbullah.' That is why we see other Hizbullah organizations in many countries, especially the Arab Gulf. It is no secret that there is Hizbullah [presence] in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iraq... The Lebanese Hizbullah is no different from other terrorist organizations the world has seen... This being the case, how can some countries hesitate to designate it as a terrorist organization[?]"[17]

Bahraini Opposition: It's The Bahraini Regime That Is Terrorizing The Citizens

Conversely, the Bahraini opposition described the government's decision as a "worthless" move aimed at "avoiding the internal crisis" in Bahrain, and added that "it is the [Bahraini] regime that is directing terrorism against its citizens who are demanding their rights." Bahraini oppositionist Fadhel Abbas told the Iranian news agency Fars: "The Bahraini parliament is a monster whose decisions are not its own. Its resolution regarding Hizbullah is the position of the Bahraini regime... which is a worthless [decision]... since [even] the European Union refused to include [Hizbullah on its terrorist organization list]."[18]

The head of the human rights department at the Al-Wefaq oppositionist movement, Hadi Al-Musawi, stated: "I can summarize [the regime's] terrorist actions [by mentioning] the destruction of dozens of mosques, the killing of over 100 innocent civilians, the torturing of civilians and the use of lethal measures." Oppositionist Radhi Al-Musawi said: "Exporting problems will not solve them... Bahrain needs true political reform that meets the people's democratic demands in a nonviolent manner." He added that the situation in Bahrain is an internal constitutional crisis "unrelated to foreign [elements]," and stressed that the Bahraini regime had turned its crisis into one with "regional consequences" when it recruited the Peninsula Shield Force.[19]

Wefaq logo

Responses In Iran: Bahrain's Move – Part Of A Zionist-American Plan

The Iranian regime, for its part, which supports Hizbullah and sees the Al-Khalifa regime in Bahrain as illegitimate, condemned Bahrain's decision to designate Hizbullah a terrorist organization. Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Deputy Chair Ahemd Reza Dastgheib called the move part of "a Zionist plan" and said: "Arab countries should know that such conduct is not beneficial to their international image. A decision based on demands from the Zionist regime should provoke the Arabs [against those who made it]."[20]

Iranian media also attacked the Bahraini move. Press TV called it a continuation of the U.S.-Israeli campaign to pressure the EU to designate Hizbullah a terrorist organization,[21] and websites close to the IRGC attacked it as a "hostile move" by "the illegitimate Al-Khalifa regime."[22]

Will The Other GCC States Follow Suit?

Following the Bahraini decision, reports had it that the other GCC states are considering a similar step. Bahraini Parliament Speaker Khalifa bin Ahmad Al-Dhahrani said on April 9, 2013 that all the Gulf states intend to add Hizbullah to their lists of terrorist organizations.[23] The chairman of the Shura Council Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and National Security, Dr. Khalid bin Khalifa Aal-Khalifa, said: "Entering Hizbullah into the list of terrorist organizations has become necessary not just in Bahrain, but in all GCC and Arab states. This, in order to hold accountable any citizen who makes contact with this organization or joins it in planning attacks on the Arab societies in general and in the Gulf in particular."[24]

Nabil Al-Hamar, a media advisor to the king of Bahrain, expressed his expectation that other GCC states would follow Bahrain's example after it has exposed Hizbullah's involvement in terrorist acts, indicating Iranian involvement in Gulf affairs.[25]

Indeed, voices emerged in Kuwait calling upon this country and other Gulf states to enter Hizbullah into their lists of terrorist organizations. For example, Kuwaiti MP Hammad Al-Dosari called upon the Kuwaiti interior and foreign ministers to follow the example of their Bahraini counterparts.[26] It should be mentioned, however, that Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sabah Al-Khalid, was asked during an April 9, 2013 press conference with his Bahraini counterpart whether Kuwait would take a similar step, and said that entering any group into the list of terrorist organizations required certain steps before it could be accomplished.[27]

The call to expand the move to all Gulf states also appeared in an article in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyassa, by Iraqi columnist Daoud Al-Basri: "Anyone who follows the loathsome campaigns run by the media outlets of Iranian organizations in the region against Bahrain is necessarily aware of Hizbullah's central role in running and steering these campaigns towards their dubious goal, [which is] to subject the entire Gulf region to Iranian influence... The attack on Bahrain does not stop at its borders, but rather far exceeds them: [it is] a Safavid [i.e., Iranian] plan with widespread goals spanning the entire Arab Gulf. After toppling Bahrain, God forbid, it indents to penetrate Saudi Arabia and then spread southward, towards Yemen…

"From a purely strategic viewpoint, the rest of the GCC states joining the Bahraini efforts [against Hizbullah] would strengthen national security in the Arab Gulf, seal all the loopholes that the Safavis use to infiltrate [this region], and create a strong, united Gulf front that could thwart any Iranian plan meant to drive a wedge and create schism and disagreements among the people of the Arab Gulf and its various countries. There is currently no real alternative to formulating a joint Gulf security policy that will isolate Hizbullah, close in on its activity, and track down its lobbyists and activists who are operating in the GCC states... The brave Bahraini move is a brilliant one that must be strengthened and assisted by all Gulf states, as opposed to leaving Bahrain alone in this crucial battle for the future of the Arab Gulf. The Arab Gulf today stands at on the edge of the volcano... We must act efficiently to manage the crisis jointly and responsibly, and the most important move is to isolate and besiege the Iranian lobby and IRGC agents. This is an easy task that requires nothing more than determination."[28]

*R. Goldberg is a research fellow at MEMRI.


[1] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 379, Tension in Iran-Bahrain Relations After Kayhan Editor Claims Bahrain Is Inseparable Part of Iran, August 9, 2007.

[2], April 26, 2011.

[3], May 18, 2011.

[4], November 12, 2011.

[5] Al-Emarat Al-Yawm (UAE), November 14, 2011.

[6] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), July 5, 2012.

[7], November 7, 2012.

[8] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 18, 2013.

[9] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 4, 2013.

[10] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 8, 2013.

[11] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 8, 2013.

[12], April 10, 2013.

[13] Al-Ayyam (Bahrain), April 8, 2013.

[14] Akhbar Al-Khalij (Bahrain), April 4, 2013.

[15], April 3, 2013.

[16] Al-Watan (Bahrain), March 28, 2013.

[17] Al-Ayyam (Bahrain), April 14, 2013.

[18] Fars (Iran), April 11, 2013.

[19] In mid-March 2011, about one month after the outbreak of the Shi'ite protests in Bahrain, approximately 1,000 Saudi soldiers from the Peninsula Shield Force entered Bahrain as part of the GCC joint protection agreement, in order to assist the Bahraini authorities in controlling the protests.

[20], April 12, 2013.

[21] Press TV (Iran), April 12, 2013.

[22], April 10, 2013; Mashregh News (Iran), April 9, 2013.

[23] Al-Rai (Kuwait), April 9, 2013.

[24] Al-Ayyam (Bahrain), April 8, 2013.

[25], April 18, 2013.

[26] Al-Qabas (Kuwait), April 10, 2013.

[27] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 10, 2013.

[28] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), April 13, 2013.

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