In an interview with the London daily Al-Hayat, former Bahraini army chief of staff Sheikh Maj.-Gen. Khalifa ibn Ahmad Aal-Khalifa accused Iran of playing a part in the recent disturbances in Bahrain, and criticized Iran's policy of interfering in the affairs of other countries. He also denied reports that Bahraini nationals had been involved in Al-Qaeda, and justified the presence of foreign armies in the Gulf states, claiming that such presence was aimed at safeguarding their security.
The following are excerpts from the interview:
Iran Is Involved in the Disturbances in Bahrain
Interviewer: "What about the people killed [during the disturbances in Bahrain], [the resulting] fires etc.?"
Aal-Khalifa: "These are [indeed] crimes; however, we do not have assassinations or bombings. In Bahrain, there is no terrorism or internal wars; what we are speaking of is the activities of a very small group, which has strayed from the right path and which with time will be destroyed... In every society, there is dissent – which is nothing new."
Interviewer: "Some claim that those [who participated in the disturbances] have strong ties with regional forces, namely as Iran. How accurate is this claim?"
Aal-Khalifa: "Some do indeed have ties with Iran. This is part of Iran's policy; [Iran] is like an octopus – it is rummaging around in Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Gaza, and Bahrain. We are not in the least worried about the groups that are located in Bahrain. Actually, it is a very small group... We can handle elements that are much larger..."
Interviewer: "The Iranians claim that if the U.S. starts a war against them, they will attack the U.S. forces in the region. There are U.S. forces in Bahraini waters, and their headquarters are on the Bahraini soil. Does this worry you?"
Aal-Khalifa: "We are not concerned. The Americans are capable of defending themselves, and this is their responsibility, not ours. We have no part in what is going on between Americans and Iranians; still, if we are attacked, we will be able to defend ourselves. Bahrain is part of the regional defense plan in the Gulf – it is not alone."
Interviewer: "Every now and then certain circles in Iran come out with an announcement that Bahrain is an Iranian island. Are you at all concerned about such statements?"
Aal-Khalifa: "In Iran, as well as in the Arab world, there are ignoramuses who publish idiotic and hostile statements... If Iran were to make an official declaration of this sort, we would respond; however, they say: 'These announcements have nothing to do with the official position; they are made by irresponsible individuals.'"
Interviewer: "The summit of the GCC defense ministers decided yesterday that the Dar' Al-Jazeera forces [the allied military forces of the Gulf states] should assemble [for training] in their respective countries. Aren't these forces supposed to be maintained as a single united force, and does this decision entail the dismantling of these forces and the end of their existence?"
Aal-Khalifa: "The leadership [of these forces] will remain in Saudi Arabia, and the aim of this decision is to have these forces trained in their respective countries, in order to ensure that the training [is carried out with a high] degree of professionalism and at a [high] level. In other words, the responsibility for the training will lie primarily on the leadership of these forces in their respective countries, while in the past all of them were trained in Saudi Arabia. This is not a set-back, but a development, especially in light of the increase in the numbers [of these forces]. In addition, the Dar' Al-Jazeera forces will hold annual joint training sessions and maneuvers."
There Are No Bahraini Nationals in Al-Qaeda's Ranks
Interviewer: "Are any Bahraini nationals fighting in Iraq as part of Al-Qaeda?"
Aal-Khalifa: "We have not heard of any Bahraini names and do not have any information pointing to the presence of Bahraini nationals [in Iraq]."
Interviewer: "Are there any Al-Qaeda cells in Bahrain?"
Aal-Khalifa: "In the past, reports have been published pointing to the presence [in Bahrain] of [terrorist] organizations that accuse others of heresy. This has happened three times, but we dismantled all these cells before they had [a chance to] carry out a terrorist act. The danger posed by these [terrorist] groups is right at hand, [issuing] from Saudi Arabia, where [people] who adhere to terrorist ideology are operating; however, today it seems that these groups are preoccupied primarily with Iraq and Afghanistan..."
The Foreign Military Presence In the Gulf Is Justified
Interviewer: "In the region, there seems to be a tendency to increase the number of foreign military bases... even though it is clear that the presence of these forces is a burden on the countries of the region. Does this development reflect the apprehension on the part of these countries' governments that there is a great threat to their security and stability?"
Aal-Khalifa: "Bahrain has been cooperating with the forces of friendly [countries] for over 60 years, helping them to [do their job], in return for [their] safeguarding [Bahrain's] security. It is both understandable and legitimate that a country should be willing to cooperate with friendly forces in order to safeguard its security and to deal with threats directed against it. Countries do not act this way because they enjoy foreign presence but because they feel that there are threats against them that exceed their capability to safeguard their security [independently]. [Here] in Bahrain, we understand, respect, and support this tendency."
Peace between Israel and Syria will Make It Easier to Achieve Peace with the Palestinians
Interviewer: "Lately, there has been talk about the possibility of peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and between the Syrians and the Israelis. Is this peace going to have a positive impact on regional security?"
Aal-Khalifa: "Yes, without a doubt. No one wants war. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians may take some time, but as concerns Syria, the situation is different. Syria may achieve peace just like Jordan and Egypt, and we hope that Lebanon will achieve such peace as well. In my opinion, peace between Syria and Israel will make it easier to [achieve] the longed-for peace between Israel and the Palestinians."
 Al-Hayat (London), May 16, 2008.