In the past month, we have witnessed Saudi efforts to annex Bahrain to its territory. What is the exact nature of the alliance pact between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain?
I have not heard whether the full and exact text of the alliance pact between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain has been published in the media or not. However, due to the fact that in the current situation these two countries have had a type of political-defense cooperation in the framework of their GCC responsibilities, and if one makes a broad interpretation of this cooperation, one might say that Saudi forces have directly interfered in Bahrain's internal political and social developments under the shadow of the Island Shield. Therefore, it can be said that this Saudi-Bahraini alliance provides more opportunities than what has so far existed in the framework of the GCC, and it might seek to prepare the grounds for a move towards annexation or a sort of legal federalism with Saudi Arabia at its center. It is clear that such an annexation is not only an anti-Iranian move, but it also seeks to suppress Bahrain's Shiite majority and even Saudi Arabia's Shiite minority, and this would be in line with the plan of the Saudis and some other regional groups to start a war between Shiites and Sunnis. On the other hand, as you probably know, one of the main criticisms against the Al-Khalifa government is the rule of this Sunni minority over the country's Shiite majority.
How possible is it to put the annexation plan into practice? From an international law perspective and considering international protocol, what steps must be taken to complete this plan?
From a legal standpoint, a military and political alliance between two countries is acceptable and is not against the UN Charter as long as it does not have an invasive nature and is only meant as a common defense strategy. But from a political standpoint, it is clear that in present political circumstances, this is an unnecessary and provocative move which is against the will of the majority of Bahrainis, and it will lead to strong political and security reactions in the Persian Gulf region.
Is it possible for Iran to once again lay claim to Bahrain?
International law states that after a country comes into existence and is recognized by the international community and by the country which used to lay claim to it, it is not possible to withdraw the de jure recognition through peaceful means. However, in international relations when a crisis gets out of hand, countries resort to cutting diplomatic relations, which may constitute a step before a conflict.
In your opinion, if a referendum is held in Bahrain today asking the people about their preference for independence, a return to Iran or a union with Saudi Arabia, what will the outcome be?
Firstly, under present circumstances, holding a free and fair referendum in Bahrain along the lines of what you mentioned is out of the question. However, what has transpired from the crisis and unrest in Bahrain during the last year is that the majority of Bahrainis are not only definitely against union with Saudi Arabia, but the legitimacy of the ruling dynasty will also probably be questioned.
In principle, is Iran inclined to annex Bahrain to its territory?
Not at all. The Islamic Republic has never called for the annexation of Bahrain to Iran. What Iran has insisted on is the observation of the rights of Shiites within the framework of democracy in Bahrain. However, for this to be realized, Iran has never interfered in the internal affairs of Bahrain.
Is this plan a move towards incorporation of small Arab states into a bigger nation-state called Saudi Arabia?
I am not confident that the realization of a bigger country encompassing a few smaller ones is either welcomed by the countries in the region or accepted by the people of these sheikdoms. Moreover, the establishment of such a union is not beneficial for the West or the US.
Taking into consideration that other Persian Gulf countries, including Qatar and Kuwait, are very much against it, can one conclude that the incorporation of small Arab countries into Saudi Arabia is a serious proposition, or does their opposition have other reasons in your opinion?
The hypothesis of incorporation of these countries into Saudi Arabia sounds more like a joke. Perhaps in the best case scenario, one can cite this Saudi nervousness towards evolving developments in the region, which is raised with the intention of provocation or destruction of such developments.
You mentioned that the incorporation of small Arab countries into Saudi Arabia and formation of a great Arab nation-state contradicts US interests. Firstly, has the US played a role in Saudi Arabia’s recent plan regarding the formation of a union? And second, how are US interests provided for in the region?
Of course the US plays a role in Saudi Arabia and has vital interests in that country. But the point that these vital interests are necessarily and exclusively provided by the Al-Saud family is questionable. The major CENTCOM air base is located in Qatar. A large US naval base is in Bahrain. Part of the US army is stationed in Kuwait after leaving Iraq. Major oil and energy sources of the Middle East are located in Saudi Arabia and Iraq and one or two other places. Now, how is it possible to tie all these interests to the fate of Saudi rulers who are faced with serious challenges and non-Wahhabi and Salafist movements in the East? The situation has reached a point where even orthodox and radical circles of Wahhabism and Salafism do not approve of it. Would it be reasonable, under these circumstances, for the US to tie its vital interests to their fate and agree with the incorporation of all these sheikhdoms into Saudi Arabia?
What would have been the best policy for Iran to follow from the beginning of the Bahraini crisis?
I refer you to the positions of the Supreme Leader, made both in Friday Prayers a few months ago and on the 14th of Khordad. Had our foreign policy followed this policy, it might have reached a better result. Authentic and humble behavior is the foundation of an active foreign policy. A constitutional monarchy is required to enforce the following steps: observe the rights of the majority and the minority, transfer of power in the government, establishment of a national government chosen by the majority, free elections, representation of all the people and parties in the senate and parliament, and an independent judiciary which will observe the rights of all people, whether Shiite or Sunni. This is the demand of the great people and government of Iran, as a neighbor of Bahrain. If the Prime Minister and other sheikhs, who are fond of Saudi Arabia, decide to choose another path, then Iran must act according to its national interests and security. What Saudi Arabia did in Bahrain was and is not a difficult task. If Iran had wanted, it could have gained control over Bahrain within a few hours using its rapid reaction forces. But these methods are not compatible with Iran’s policies. Iran seeks the security of the Persian Gulf. We showed the same policy during Saddam’s era. But if Saudi Arabia decides to start another game, it will certainly be fragile.
What position should Saudi Arabia have taken with regard to people’s uprisings in Bahrain?
My advice, and that of many experienced individuals who are also career diplomats, to Saudi Arabia is to choose dialogue, negotiations and diplomacy, instead of being disheartened about Mubarak, Bin Ali, and Abdullah Saleh’s downfall, and instead of fighting against Iran’s soft power in the region. Saudi Arabia’s interpretation of this military path and occupation and terror to safeguard the balance of power is a strategic mistake. Iran can be helpful in removing Saudi concerns with the logic of patience, not confrontation.