An infamous Iranian covert agent threatened Monday to overthrow the government of the small Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain — a key U.S. defense partner and host of the Navy’s 5th Fleet.
Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds force, warned of “repercussions” shortly after Bahrain stripped Shia Muslim cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim of his citizenship Monday. Bahrain defended its decision by alleging that Qassim used his position as the country’s top Shia cleric to “serve foreign interests and promote … sectarianism and violence.”
Soleimani responded to the news with a statement saying,”the toppling of the regime will only be a small part of the repercussions that will also include armed resistance.”
The al-Khalifa family, the dynasty that governs Bahrain, is Sunni, while about 70 percent of the country is made up of Shia Muslims. The Sunni elite have often run into conflict with the majority Shia, most recently during a failed Shia uprising in 2011. Bahraini security forces have are often accused of harsh crackdowns on Shia dissent, which continues today.
Iran, which considers itself the premier Shia power in the Middle East, has had an antagonistic relationship with the al-Khalifa regime since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Soleimani and his Quds Force are Iran’s premier covert operations force, responsible for pushing Iran’s foreign policy abroad, which more often than not involves supporting terrorists and fomenting sectarian dissent.
Soleimani once warned U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus that when it comes to Iran’s foreign policy in the Middle East, he speaks for the government. If any Iranian were to try overthrow the al-Khalifa regime, it would be him.
The stripping of Qassim’s citizenship comes one week after the al-Khalifa regime suspended al-Wefaq, the main opposition group in Bahrain.
Bahrain is a tiny island nation that sits just off the coast of Saudi Arabia. The U.S. and Bahrain share a close relationship ever since the country gained independence from the U.K. in 1971. As the home of the Navy’s 5th Fleet, which is responsible for securing the crucial Persian Gulf, Bahrain is a primary component to U.S. interests in the region.
Despite the important security relationship, the U.S. Department of State released a press statement chastising Bahrain for the stripping of Qassim’s citizenship.
“We are alarmed by the Government of Bahrain’s decision to revoke the citizenship of prominent Shia cleric, Sheikh Isa Qassim,” said the statement. “We remain deeply troubled by the Government of Bahrain’s practice of withdrawing the nationality of its citizens arbitrarily, the overall precedent that this case could establish, and the risk that individuals may be rendered stateless.”
The Department of State claimed that Qassim was not given the opportunity to respond to the al-Khalifa regime’s accusations before his citizenship was stripped.
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