For over a month, Shi'ites in Bahrain have been staging demonstrations to demand the ouster of the regime and the implementation of reforms in the country. On March 14, 2011, a senior Saudi official reported that under the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) joint defense pact, over 1,000 Saudi troops from the Peninsula Shield Force had deployed to Bahrain, to help the Bahraini authorities rein in the demonstrations. At the same time, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh 'Abdallah bin Zayed Aal Nahyan said that his country had sent 500 policemen to Bahrain.
The deployment of foreign forces to Bahrain was criticized by Iranian officials, who claimed that it would lead to an escalation in the violence against the protestors in Bahrain; some also accused the U.S. of responsibility for the violence in Bahrain. Bahraini officials, for their part, rejected Iran's criticism, calling it interference in Bahrain's affairs, and called to stop this interference.
Opposition to Iran's criticism was also voiced in Saudi Arabia. In the wake of recent events there – calls for reform in the country, Shi'ite demonstrations in eastern Saudi Arabia, and the countrywide "day of rage" planned for March 11, 2011 – and in the wake of the escalating tension stemming from the deployment of forces from Gulf countries to Bahrain, senior Saudi officials accused Iran of attempting to instigate a revolution in their country and to set the entire Gulf region ablaze. King 'Abdallah and other Saudi officials warned that Saudi Arabia would permit no foreign interference in its affairs. Similar criticism was expressed by Saudi newspaper editorials.
This report will provide an overview of the Saudi, Bahraini, and Qatari responses to the recent Iranian threats.
Bahrain: Condemnation of Iranian Attempts At Interference
A statement released at the close of a March 10, 2011 convention of GCC foreign ministers in Riyadh read: "...The [GCC] member states and their peoples... oppose any attempts at foreign intervention in their affairs. They declare that they will stand firmly and with determination against anyone who tries to ignite ethnic fanaticism or to spread sectarianism among them and among their peoples, or against anyone who dares to threaten their security and their interests. Any harm to the security of one member country will be considered as harm to all member countries, and will be dealt with immediately and without hesitation."
The statements attributed to Iranian Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi by the Arab media, i.e. that "Iran will not sit idly by in light of the Saudi military intervention in Bahrain," were condemned in Bahrain, which recalled its ambassador from Tehran. Bahraini Deputy Regional and GCC Affairs Minister Hamed Al-'Amer called Salehi's statements blatant intervention in Bahrain's domestic affairs, saying that they ran counter to the most fundamental principles of Bahrain's neighborly relations with Iran. Al-'Amer added that the statements also ran counter to the international charters and laws under which the independence and sovereignty of countries must be respected and their domestic affairs should not be meddled with.
Iran's opposition to the deployment of forces to Bahrain was also criticized by GCC Secretary-General Abd Al-Rahman Al-'Attiya. Al-'Attiya said that the deployment was a natural move taken at Bahrain's request, out of a collective responsibility for the stability of the Gulf countries and in accordance with the GCC joint defense pact. Al-'Attiya also demanded that Iran cease its interference in the domestic affairs of the Gulf countries, just as the latter do not interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries – including Iran.
In contrast, Bahraini opposition leaders said that they considered the GCC forces sent to Bahrain to be occupation forces, and added that they would seek aid from Iran if the Shi'ites in Bahrain were harmed. They said that as of March 15, it had become clear that Hizbullah was standing alongside the Bahraini opposition.
Saudi Response: The Gulf States Will Not Permit Intervention in Their Affairs
In Saudi Arabia, accusations were leveled against Iran, against the backdrop of the Shi'ite demonstrations in the kingdom, and the Iranian statements regarding the situation in Bahrain were criticized. On March 14, a Saudi security source reported that security forces in the eastern city of Al-Qatif had arrested an Iranian for posting notices calling upon local residents to demonstrate and to set businesses and government buildings on fire. The Saudi authorities warned that they would not tolerate protests or calls to establish political parties.
King Abdallah: We Will Not Permit Intervention in Our Affairs
In a Saudi government meeting in Riyadh on March 14, headed by King Abdallah, participants stressed the GCC's opposition to foreign intervention in its affairs. The monarch said that Saudi Arabia opposes any intervention in its domestic affairs that might affect the good of the country, its citizens, and its laws. He added that the Saudi people had proven their loyalty to their state since its foundation, as well as to its leadership. Therefore, he said, it was no wonder that they did not heed calls to demonstrate by "those with hostile tendencies, because they know what the aims behind these false calls are."
Saudi FM: Bahrain's Security Is Our Security
At a March 14 meeting in Manama, attended by Bahraini King Hamad bin 'Issa Aal Khalifa, Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin 'Issa Aal Khalifa, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal, and Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jasem Aal Thani, the Saudi foreign minister said that his country supports Bahrain in light of the unrest there, adding that Bahrain's security is Saudi security and that all the GCC countries are fearful for Bahrain's security and stability.
Qatari Foreign Minister Aal Thani said that his country would help Bahrain overcome any threat to its security and stability.
Saudi Emir: We Will Not Let Iran Undermine Saudi Arabia
In an interview with the Saudi website Lojainiat.com, Saudi Emir Khaled bin Talal, the brother of prominent Saudi businessman Emir Walid bin Talal, said: "Over time, all the doubts began to be confirmed, and it was even revealed with certainty that the Rafidites [a pejorative term for the Shi'ites] and the turban-wearers [i.e. the Iranian ayatollahs] who are behind those who are sparking fitna [civil strife], those who incite, and those who seek to lead the country into the abyss, as Hizbullah did in Lebanon; as the [Rafidites and turban-wearers] did in Iraq...; as they did in the Houthis' war in Yemen; and ultimately as they are doing in Bahrain, and even before that – [in the demonstrations ] that took place several times in Saudi Arabia..."
"The Rafidites and the turban wearers... are inciting against the Saudi people... by brandishing slogans and pictures that are offensive to the religion, the state, its rulers, and its people – pictures of turban wearers and mullahs from Iran and Iraq and from Hizbullah. Were the Sunnis to do such a thing in Iran, they would be driven out of their homes; the imams and clerics would drive them out of their mosques; the Sunni intellectuals would execute them or imprison them, or else they would disappear...
"We – the [Saudi] leaders and the [Saudi] people – will not accept any intervention whatsoever in the affairs of the Saudi kingdom. As [Saudi Foreign Minister] Saud Al-Faisal said: If anyone tries to dip even a finger into the affairs of the kingdom, his fingers will be chopped off... The Saudi people in its entirety is united behind its ruler, and we will remain united on the basis of the Koran and the Sunna..."
Saudi Al-Watan Daily: Gulf Countries Will Not Permit Iranian Intervention in Their Affairs
According to an editorial in the Saudi government daily Al-Watan: "A politician who isolates himself on the east bank of the Arab – not the Persian – Gulf is quite mistaken if he thinks that the GCC countries will sit idly by in the face of his obvious interference in Bahraini affairs. When we say 'Bahraini affairs,' Iran must be well aware that we mean 'Gulf affairs,' and that the political and military branches of GCC were established in order to unify and defend the Gulf against anyone threatening the security and stability of its citizens...
"Does [the statement by the Iranian foreign minister that Iran would not sit idly by] constitute an admission that Iran has, for some time, been changing the Bahraini landscape as it pleases?... It appears that the 'legitimate' Gulf support – not intervention – has enraged Iran, which for some time has been claiming that it is not interfering in Bahraini affairs. If that were not the case, why is Iran now hinting that it will not sit idly by?..."
Saudi Daily Al-Jazirah: Iran Is Trying to Set Gulf Ablaze
In an editorial, the Saudi daily Al-Jazirah stated that Iran is responsible for the demonstrations in the Gulf countries, which are intended to speed up the Iranian takeover of the region: "You do not need to be an expert to realize that behind the attempts to generate fitna and unrest through demonstrations in several Arab Gulf countries there are inciters and supporters – and that among them are those who plan and lead the unrest, shamelessly and fearlessly. [What is happening in] the Kingdom of Bahrain is an example of such [subversive] activity, as revealed by documents obtained by the [security] agencies in the region's countries.
"[These documents] have made it clear that circles in the Iranian regime are acting tirelessly, with the support of the regime's Supreme Leader [Ali Khamenei], to set things ablaze in the Arab Gulf states, in order to hasten the realization of [Iran's] aspirations – the imposition of Iranian hegemony in the region.
"The Iranian intelligence and [Iran's] sleeper cells [operate] in ways determined in Tehran and Qom – by sparking demonstrations and unrest and by inducing the security apparatuses in the Arab Gulf countries to clash [with the demonstrators]. ... [The aim is] to thwart any dialogue and any initiative of the Arab Gulf states to implement reforms, that would improve the living conditions of the people of the Arab Gulf, [already better] than those of the Iranians.
"[Iran] prevents [its] Arab, Kurdish, and Baluchi minorities – which [together] constitute a majority compared to the Persian minority... from speaking their own languages; [Iran] restrains its Sunni clerics, and leads the [minority] youth to the gallows. [Moreover,] the Iranian Al-Alam TV channel, which is directed toward the Arab world, covers the demonstrations in Bahrain and [even] fabricates demonstrations in Saudi cities – demonstrations that exist only in the sick minds [of the Iranians] – while ignoring what is happening in Ahwaz, in Iranian Kurdistan, in Baluchistan, and even on the streets of Tehran, where the reformists are persecuted and oppressed on a daily basis..."
Qatar: Deployment of Gulf Forces to Bahrain Is Justified
In a meeting with the Bahraini monarch Hamad bin 'Issa Aal Khalifa, Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jasem said that the deployment of the Gulf forces to Bahrain was part of a joint defense treaty between the GCC countries, and that this agreement was binding upon all member states, whenever a fellow member requested help. With regard to the Qatari forces in Bahrain, bin Jasem said that only liaison officers were deployed, and not full-fledged forces. He called upon the demonstrators in Bahrain to conduct a dialogue in order to achieve their demands.
Editor of the Qatari daily Al-Watan Ahmad 'Ali justified the deployment of Gulf forces to Bahrain, and criticized Iranian interference in Bahrain's domestic affairs: "...There is no argument that it is Bahrain's right to request the help of the GCC in order to maintain its security, both internal and external, and that it is the duty of the GCC states to cooperate and display solidarity with it, in [light of] its internal crisis... The presence of the Peninsula Shield Force in Bahrain is not directed toward the people, but is intended to protect the [state's] achievements in light of the riots...
"I am surprised at the Iranian... intervention in the crisis in Bahrain. Iran has enough domestic problems [of its own], and we all know what the 'reformists' in their Islamic Republic want. Therefore, it would behoove [Iran] to [refrain] from exporting its crises to its neighbors. Before Iran can claim that it is concerned about the Bahrainis, it should take care not to violate the rights of its citizens who support Mahdi Karroubi, Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mohammad Khatami, and other liberals. Just as we object to Western interference in Iranian affairs, we adamantly object to Iranian interference in the affairs of others..."
Iran Reacts with Increasingly Virulent Statements – But As Yet Without Military Response; Threats of Terror against Saudi Arabia
Responding to a decision by Saudi Arabia to send military and police forces to Bahrain, Iran took up a harsher tone than that of its previously relatively moderate reactions to the events in Bahrain which began in mid-February. For Tehran, the Saudi "invasion of Bahrain," as it was described by Iranian spokesmen, constitutes a change to the delicate status quo in the Gulf, specifically between Shi'ite Iran and Sunni and U.S.-allied Saudi Arabia. Notwithstanding Iran's sentimental, historical, and religious-sectarian ties to Bahrain – in 1971, Iran, under the Pahlavi shah, made an agreement with the U.K., relinquishing its sovereignty over Bahrain – Saudi Arabia has taken a stand over the island of Bahrain as a strategic Sunni foothold which must remain under Sunni rule, under the patronage of the Saudi royal court.
Since the deployment of Saudi troops to Bahrain, Tehran's statements on the matter have become increasingly virulent, particularly vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia and the latter's Al-Sa'ud and Bahrain's Al-Khalifa royal families. On the one hand, Iran has released statements harshly condemning the Saudi rulers of committing a purported massacre of Bahraini Muslims – as far as Iran is concerned, the Shi'ites. The statements equated the Al-Sa'ud regime with the Zionist regime occupying the Palestinians, and said that "Saudi Arabia should expect a tsunami within its borders." On the other hand, Tehran has also made diplomatic contact with Riyadh, mediated by Syria.
Iran's ayatollahs also made rather bold statements against the Saudi royal family, describing it as "occupying the holy places of Islam," and even stating that "according to the injunctions of Islam, it is the duty of all the Muslims in the world not to sit idly by while [even] one Muslim is being oppressed."
It should be noted, however, that until now the Iranian response has been purely verbal. Moreover, none of Iran's military chiefs known for their frequently fiery and militant statements in various circumstances, often much less severe than the current circumstances, have made any concrete threats against those involved in the deployment of troops in Bahrain. Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi was the only military figure to address the matter, but did so with restraint. He condemned the deployment of Saudi troops and warned that "such operations will increase tensions and harm the stability and security of the region. If these unsound and illegal steps become the norm, the region will become a hub of incendiarism, hostility, and brawling, whose smoke will drift into the faces of the region's nations."
Likewise, there were no reports of any movement of Iranian military forces in the Gulf. It would appear that any potential Iranian military response will take the form of asymmetrical warfare, which is to say, terrorism, as evidenced by initial threats to strike Saudi interests, and by reports that volunteers have begun enlisting for suicide attacks against Saudi interests and public figures. Iranian Majlis Member Mahmoud Dehkan called on the Iranian government to give Saudi Arabia an ultimatum to remove its troops from Bahrain, and said that "Iran has the ability and the power to threaten Saudi Arabia and the UAE's interests everywhere." He added that Tehran must not turn a deaf ear to the Bahraini people's cry for help, and that it was obligated to defend them. Mohammad Baqr-Zadeh, a senior official in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), said that "Saudi Arabia and the UAE's show of military force in Bahrain is a strategic error that will cause the popular movements in Bahrain to enter the stage of jihad."
It should be noted that, from the beginning, Iranian senior officials have held the U.S. responsible for the deployment of foreign forces to Bahrain, and announced that the U.S. would pay for its actions. The same senior officials reiterated their demand that the Bahraini authorities refrain from using violence against the protestors and honor their demands. The Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the Saudi and Swiss ambassadors in Tehran – the latter representing U.S. interests – to express its protest. It was also reported that Tehran recalled its ambassador from Manama as an additional expression of protest.
It should be noted that statements attributed to Salehi that "Iran will not sit idly by in light of the Saudi military intervention in Bahrain" were widely and prominently reported by the Arab press, but did not appear in Iranian sources. These reports reflect the Arab countries' concern over an Iranian response to the situation.
Response of Shi'ites Throughout the Gulf
The Iranian website Shia-online.ir reported that a group of Bahraini Shi'ites appealed to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to assist them as he saw fit. They offered as an example statements he had made to the Egyptian people which, they claimed, had helped them to topple the Mubarak regime. The group said that as Shi'ites they considered Khamenei their role model and supreme spiritual authority, and said they were prepared for shahada [martyrdom].
Shi'ites throughout the Arab world enlisted in a show of support for Bahrain's Shi'ites and condemned the manner in which the Bahraini regime was dealing with the demonstrations and its decision to accept reinforcements from other Gulf states. In Iraq, senior Shi'ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani expressed "deep concern" over the steps the Bahraini government had taken, and called for an end to the violence against "defenseless citizens." Likewise, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki expressed "concern over what is taking place in Bahrain." Iraqi Shi'ite leader Muqtada Al-Sadr, who resides in Iran, called on his followers to stage demonstrations in Baghdad and Basra in support of the Bahraini people.
In Lebanon, Hizbullah also condemned the "harm of civilians" in Bahrain, "the deployment of troops from neighboring Arab countries to Bahraini soil, and the use of violence causing death and harm." The organization claimed that these measures "will have no result other than to complicate matters [further]."
In Kuwait, Shi'ites likewise condemned the events in Bahrain. Kuwaiti MP Saleh 'Ashour criticized the deployment of troops from neighboring Gulf states to Bahrain, and said that he would send a parliamentary question to Kuwait's prime minister over whether the country intended to send forces there.
In an interview with Iranian Arab-language Al-Alam TV, 'Omran Al-Qurashi, a member of the Human Rights Committee in Kuwait, threatened that various groups in Kuwait would harm Saudi and Bahraini interests in the region in protest against the deployment of Saudi forces to Bahrain to suppress the demonstrations there. He said that the Kuwaiti nation expressed its solidarity with the Bahraini people, who were oppressed by the Al-Sa'ud and Al-Khalifa families, whom he called the U.S. and Israel's mercenaries in the region. He said he would never allow Kuwaiti forces to take part in such an operation.
Cartoons in the Saudi Press
Iran: 'Bahrain Must Meet the People's Demands without Resorting to Violence!!'
Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), February 20, 2011
Iran Fails in Its Efforts to Intervene in Saudi Arabia
Source: Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), March 13, 2011
Iranian Efforts to Harm Saudi Arabia Backfire
Source: Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), March 14, 2011
Iranian Tentacles Hoist Protest Banner in Bahrain
Source: Al-Madina (Saudi Arabia), February 21, 2011
The Saudi Awareness of the Iranian Threat – A Tsunami Threatening Iran
Source: Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), March 15, 2011
Cartoons in the Iranian Press
Saudi Arabia Betrays Bahraini People
Source: Fars (Iran), March 17, 2011
Saudi Arabia Stabs Bahrain
Source: Fars (Iran), March 17, 2011
Bahraini People Struggle With 'Al-Khalifa Regime,' 'Saudi Arabia'
Source: Fars (Iran), March 17, 2011
* Y. Admon and L. Barkan are Research Fellows at MEMRI; A. Savyon is Director of the Iranian Media Project at MEMRI.
 Alarabiya.net, March 14, 2011. On March 14, 2011, the Kuwaiti authorities sent forces to Bahrain as well, but ordered them to leave the country after only three days. According to reports, the Peninsula Shield Force consists mainly of Saudi soldiers, but some Qatari and UAE soldiers also remained in Bahrain.
 See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No.674, "In Anticipation of the Saudi Day of Rage on Friday March 11, 2011," March 12, 2011, In Anticipation of the Saudi Day of Rage on Friday March 11, 2011.
 Al-Khaleej (UAE), March 11, 2011.
 Al-Ayyam (Bahrain), March 16, 2011.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 16, 2011. Saudi and Bahraini columnists warned that Iran was using its Arabic-language Al-Alam TV channel to exploit the situation in Bahrain in order to ignite ethnic conflicts. Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), March 14, 2011; Akhbar Al-Khaleej (Bahrain), March 15, 2011.
 Al-Ayyam (Bahrain), March 16, 2011.
 Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), March 15, 2011.
 Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), March 15, 2011.
 Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) March 15, 2011.
 This is a reference to a recent Shi'ite march in several eastern Saudi cities; the marchers demanded the release of Shi'ite prisoners.
 Lojainiat.com, March 11, 2011.
 Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), March 15, 2011.
 Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), March 15, 2011.
 Al-Arab (Qatar), March 15, 2011.
 Al-Watan (Qatar), March 17, 2011.
 Jomhouri-e Eslami (Iran), March 17, 2011; Kayhan (Iran), March 16, 2011. Iranian Grand Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi made statements to this effect. ILNA (Iran), March 16, 2011.
 See Press TV op-ed, http://www.presstv.ir/detail/170360.html, and cartoon in Mashregh News: http://mashreghnews.ir/NSite/FullStory/News/?Id=35514.
 Sobh-e Sadeq (Iran), February 28, 2011. An editorial in Jomhouri-e Eslami claimed that Saudi Arabia would suffer for deploying its troops to Bahrain, a step that meant "pouring oil on the fire already [burning] within Saudi Arabia." It said that the Al-Sa'ud family was currently in a fragile state and that it would soon be ousted by the wave of popular uprisings sweeping the Arab world. Jomhouri-e Eslami (Iran), March 17, 2011.
 Iran previously appealed to the Organization of the Islamic Conference to prevent violence in Bahrain, demonstrating its intent to leave the management of affairs in the Gulf to the Gulf states and within Muslim hands. ISNA (Iran), March 15, 2011. It was also reported that the Iranian Foreign Ministry contacted the Syrian, Kuwaiti, and Iraqi foreign ministers. www.presstv.ir, March 17, 2011. It was also reported that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mu'allem visited Tehran on March 17.
 Senior Ayatollah Javadi-Amoli and Ayatollah Nouri-Hamadani made identical statements. Kayhan (Iran), March 17, 2011.
 Fars (Iran), March 16, 2011. Deputy Chief of Staff Ali Feirouzi claimed that rather than defending Bahrain, he wished to defend Saudi Arabia, explaining that the latter was well aware of and concerned over the weakness of its regime. Fars (Iran), March 16, 2011.
 The Iranian Shi'ite website Shia-news.com reported that enlistment of suicide bombers had commenced to strike Saudi interests in the Gulf region and worldwide. The website called on "freedom seekers who wish to join those suppressed in Bahrain to enlist and teach a lesson to the occupiers' mercenaries..." and provided a sample of an enlistment application. The Iranian website Jahan News added that several NGOs had commenced enlisting volunteers for suicide operations in Bahrain, while the website Shia-news.com. www.shia-news.com, Bushehr News (Iran), March 17, 2011; Jahan News (Iran), March 16, 2011. A group of Iranian students announced its willingness to be sent to Bahrain for the purpose of carrying out suicide missions against the U.S.-Zionist and anti-Islamic plot being implemented by Saudi Iranian and Bahrain. Fars (Iran), March 16, 2011.
 Dehkan said: "I proposed that the government give an ultimatum to the governments of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain [sic] that they must leave Bahrain immediately, within 48 hours at the latest. If Saudi Arabia does not cease its crimes, we must take a step that will threaten its interests in the region, such that it will pay a price for this stupid show of force." Mehr (Iran), March 16, 2011.
 Fars (Iran), March 16, 2011.
 In a fiercely anti-U.S. speech in the Majlis, Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani accused the U.S. of responsibility for the violence and killing of civilians in Bahrain. He stressed that U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates's secret March 12, 2011 visit to Bahrain had exposed the U.S.'s involvement in the Gulf, particularly in Bahrain. IRIB, ISNA (Iran), March 15, 2011. Kazem Jalali, a member of the Majlis's National Security Committee, said that Saudi Arabia had brought shame on itself by serving as a symbol of the advancement of U.S. policies in the region. He also said that the crimes of Bahrain's rulers had been recorded in the annals of history, and that the deployment of Saudi and UAE forces there was a combined Saudi-American plan that had been agreed upon during Robert Gates's recent visit to the region. According to Jalali, the plan was an attempt on the part of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to lend a sectarian character to the protest in Bahrain, for which they described the protestors as Shi'ites, despite the fact that they, in fact, represented a cross section of the Bahrain's population. He added that Bahrain's part in the U.S.-Saudi crime had also would also go down in history as an act of great treason. Mehr (Iran), March 16, 2011.
 For example, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi called on the Bahraini government not to use violence against its people and to respect their rights. ISNA (Iran), March 14, 2011.
 Fars (Iran), March 16, 2011.
 Press TV (Iran), March 16, 2011.
 Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), March 17, 2011.
 Al-Alam TV (Iran), March 16, 2011.