Iran’s Intimidating Shadow

There is a sinking feeling in Gulf emirates that Iran’s rulers are casting about for fresh pastures with no one around to curb their thrust.

The emirs have taken note of the international failure to halt Tehran’s nuclear program and are beginning to entertain serious doubts about the promise US Vice President Dick Cheney delivered them in January that President George W. Bush would force Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions before the end of his tenure in 2009.

(See DNW 301 of May 18, 2007: US and Iran: Are They Bluffing Each other?)

The president’s diminishing support in Washington, the worsening situations in Iraq and Lebanon and the Hamas takeover of Gaza with the help of the anti-US radical bloc of Iran, Hizballah and Syria, leave them with a sense that matters in the region are getting out of hand.

This impression is conveyed to DEBKA-Net-Weekly by well-placed sources in Qatar and Abu Dhabi.

The rancor and fear has been building up fast since May, when the UEA president Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan cut a deal with Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran to refrain from pressing the historic claim to Abu Musa, Lesser Tunb and Greater Tunb and accept Iran’s military presence on the three disputed Gulf islands.

(DNW 301 of May 18, 2007: Abu Dhabi Grants Iran Full License for Military Control).

The sense of insecurity boiled over Wednesday, July 11, after Hussain Shariatmadari, the managing editor of the Iranian daily Kayhan, asserted that Bahrainis are demanding the restoration of their “province” to the motherland of Iran.

This claim by the Iranian editor, who also happens to be an adviser to Iran’s supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, drew a sharp condemnation from Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf. The GCC Secretary General, Abdulrahman al Attiya also referred to Iran’s claims to the three UAE islands.

He said: “Such statements are an affront to the sovereignty of GCC states, are false and fuel sectariansm.” He advocated the need to build bridges of trust for the sake of the region’s stability and prosperity.

On the same day, a headline in large black letters, “Hands off Bahrain!” appeared in the a local paper over this statement:

“The Shura Council strongly deplored the statements (by the editor of Iran’s Kayhan) and called on Iran to respect the principles of good neighborhood and friendly ties bonding the countries and their peoples. It also urged Iran to clarify its stance vis-a-vis the statements in respect of international conventions and resolutions.”

No one in the Gulf puts the chances of clarification by Tehran very high.

Shariatmadari speaks for the radical factions of the regime in Tehran, who regard Bahrain as Iranian territory, much as China claims Taiwan.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Gulf sources have a long acquaintance with the Iranian editor. They say he draws his clout from his past as a senior official in Iran’s intelligence Ministry. Any Gulf high-up daring to challenge him outright would risk a whole can of worms being pulled out of Iranian intelligence files and made public.

This awareness further fuels the climate of intimidation in the region.

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