This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 15/03/2011
Once it was announced that the first deployment of the Joint Peninsula Shield Force (JPSF) had arrived in Manama, in response to the request of the Kingdom of Bahrain, to contribute to the re-establishment of security and stability in the country, several critical statements were issued from the Shiite opposition, and others, in Bahrain. However, what was most serious was the subsequent Iranian statement.
The Iranian Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, said: "Iran will not stand by idly, in the event of any Saudi intervention to eradicate the Shiites of Bahrain". This statement alone, from the mouth of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, is stark evidence of Iran's sectarian mentality.
The JPSF did not go to Manama to support a particular sect, but rather it went in response to an official request from Bahrain. To say that this is an illegal act, as the Bahraini opposition are suggesting, along with a Shiite MP in Kuwait, is a claim that can be refuted: The JPSF went to Bahrain in accordance with the agreements and covenants of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and these were the same forces that came to Kuwait's rescue during the Iraqi invasion, something that the Kuwaiti MP ought to have remembered.
Furthermore, the JPSF arrived in Bahrain not as a military power, but rather as a security force, according to what I was told by a senior Gulf official. There were several reasons for sending this force, firstly: to respond to the request of Bahrain, as this is a commitment stipulated by the Gulf agreements. Secondly, the JPSF serves as a symbolic force, indicating that the GCC states will not allow Bahrain to deteriorate into a sectarian civil war, especially as sectarian tension has now reached its peak there. Thirdly, the GCC states want to send a clear message that they are committed to the security of Bahrain.
Of course, none of this implies a sectarian mentality. Sectarianism occurs when a particular section of society seeks to impose its political vision alone upon the state, without achieving such demands through national consensus. The Shiites on their own do not constitute the population of Bahrain, there are Sunnis as well. Democracy cannot take place with one sect being compared to another, but rather it must be conducted on the basis of participation and citizenship. Therefore, the Iranian Foreign Minister's statement shows the extent of the abhorrent sectarianism that exists in the Tehran government. Iran does not care for the security of Bahrain, or its civil peace, but rather it is interested in certain sects. Salehi's words about Saudi Arabia seeking to exterminate the Shiites is glaring evidence of the gravity of what Iran is doing in our region, and this is something we have been warned of at length.
The question is what are the implications of Iran's statement? The answer quite simply is as follows: The Gulf has dealt with Iran for a long time, in accordance with the famous saying uttered by the Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim, as reported by 'Wikileaks'. He said that relations with Iran were conducted on the principle of "they lie to us, and we lie to them". The game today with Iran has become widely exposed. Tehran wants to intervene in the affairs of the GCC, in accordance with its sectarian logic, whilst the GCC member states seek security and stability, and do not interfere in the internal affairs of Iran. Therefore, sending the JPSF to Bahrain is a sound, legal act, without sectarian motives, whilst the Iranian Foreign Minister's statement is explicitly sectarian.