By Thomas Erdbrink<br />TEHRAN – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rarely forgoes an opportunity for a war of words, but he reacted with unusual restraint to recent statements by Saudi-Arabia and other Persian Gulf states accusing Iran of interfering in their nations<br />
The allegations follow the controversial March intervention of troops from Saudi-Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the tiny island state of Bahrain, also home to the United States 5th Fleet.
<br />Quelling a popular uprising similar to others taking place in the region, both nations came to the aide of Bahrain’s Sunni rulers who said that predominantly Shiite protesters were planning to overthrow their government. The move angered Shiites in Iran, Iraq and elsewhere across the region.
<br />Two weeks after Saudi troops in armoured personnel carriers poured onto the tiny island and led a violent crackdown on Shiite activists, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave his first reaction to the Saudi-led move. “This invasion is an ugly thing,” he said briefly, responding to a question on Bahrain during a scheduled press conference.
<br />Since then no Iranian government reaction has followed which officially condemned the crackdown. Lower officials have briefly responded to two statements by the Gulf Cooperation Council whose members Saudi-Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman have ordered Iran to “stop interfering” in their countries. They accused Iran of fomenting plots, hatching conspiracies and running spy rings in Kuwait and other nations.
<br />On Monday Bahrain’s foreign minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa said that the Arab troops would remain on the island until Iranian “threats” have been eased. Bahrain and Iran have a long history with Iran at several times laying claim on the island. Relations have been cold in the last decade, with only very few Iranians being able to obtain visas for the country. Currently Saudi Arabia, which is connected to Bahrain by a bridge, views the Island as an integral part of its security.
<br />Calling the Gulf Cooperation Council’s accusations “surprising”, an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said that it is Arab states that which are interfering in the affairs of others.
<br />“The military forces of some members of the council have disregarded international law and conventions, interfered in the internal affairs of their neighboring country and cracked down on defenseless men and women,” Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters on Monday.
<br />Iran and Saudi Arabia have been in regional competition for decades. Both nations live off their oil incomes, which Iran has employed for keeping its 1979 Islamic revolution afloat, while Saudi-Arabia has used its oil and financial leverage in order to position itself as a main ally of the United States in the Persian Gulf region.
<br />With the fall of other Sunni bulwark leaders, such as Saddam Hussein in Iraq after the U.S. 2003 invasion and recently Hosni Mubarak Egypt, Saudi Arabia –a far cry from a warrior nation –now finds itself on the front lines of what it says are Iranian attempts to fill the increasing power vacuum in the region and spread their Shiite strain of Islam.
<br />Inside Iran the government’s silence on the Saudi crackdown in Bahrain matter has angered Iranian Parliamentarians, Shiite activists and even Ahmadinejad supporters, who are demanding much tougher action against Saudi-Arabia. In a sign of rising anger last week Monday hard line students threw firebombs against the walls of the Saudi embassy in east Tehran, but were quickly dispersed by riot police.
<br />Rouhollah Hosseinian, an Ahmadinejad supporter in parliament, has called for Iran’s forces to be prepare for war. “We should not allow Saudi-Arabia’s borders to get closer to us”, told the Khabaronline Website, last week.
<br />An influential Shiite activist, Hossein Allahkaram, said on Sunday that Iran has a whole range of methods in order to drive the Saudi’s out of Bahrain, with the ultimate option being suicide bombings.
<br />But Ahmadinejad, clearly choosing not to ride the wave of hard line sentiments, refrained from condemning the Persian Gulf state nations for their involvement and support for the Bahrain intervention. Instead he warned them on Monday against a “scenario” by the United States, aimed at creating Iranian-Arab and Shi’i – Sunni tensions. “Don’t be fooled by them,” he said. “Iran is a friend of all nations.”
<br />Iranian political analysts are lauding Ahmadinejad’s silence. “All the Saudi’s want with their intervention in Bahrain is to divert attention from their own internal problems,” said Abbas Abdi, who critical of the government. Ignoring the accusations is the best option, he said, adding that even if Iran wanted it was in no position to act militarily in the region at this moment. “These tensions will fizzle out soon,” said Abdi.
<br />“Lets face it, Saudi Arabia is hugely unstable and now tries to create a mythological enemy to cover up its increasing weaknesses,” said Mohammad Marandi, a professor of North American studies at Tehran University. He said domestic unrest combined with the regional uprisings are increasingly making Saudi-Arabia’s rulers nervous.
<br />“Iran does not need to react, or give any excuses or pretexts for the Saudi’s,” said Marandi. “In the end it is them who are really in trouble.”