The standoff between the Gulf Arab states and Iran and its partners is in full swing. The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the Bahraini government submitted a 13-page report to the United Nations last week, accusing Hezbollah of colluding to overthrow the al Khalifa ruling family. The Gulf nation claims that the Lebanon-based, Iranian-supported terrorist organization has been training Bahraini protesters at camps in Lebanon and Iran, as well as coordinating with leaders of al Haq and al Wefaq, two Shi’ite opposition movements, to bolster anti-regime activity. These charges are part of a nearly two-month-long battle waged between Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, and the Saudi-supported al Khalifa regime amidst legitimate, grassroots protests in Bahrain.
Hezbollah has harshly condemned Bahrain’s government crackdown and openly supported protesters, maintaining that it only provides the opposition with “political and moral support.” Notably, Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened the al Khalifa regime in his two latest public speeches; he warned on April 9 that the expulsion of additional Lebanese citizens from Bahrain “would lead to complications” and predicted on March 13 a bleak future for Manama’s leaders. He stated, “No matter how stubborn you are, you are doomed to be defeated, so respond to your peoples before it is too late.”
Bahrain’s foreign ministry reacted angrily to the latter speech on March 20, denouncing it as “blatant interference” and “a violation of Bahrain’s sovereignty.” The kingdom has since punished the Lebanese state by advising Bahraini citizens against traveling to Lebanon, suspending flights to and from Beirut, and deporting Lebanese nationals—mainly Shi’ites with alleged links to Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Iran, partly through its close ties with Hezbollah and other actors, has attempted to use the Arab Spring to project its ambitions across the region; its narrative that the largely peaceful and pro-democratic uprisings are an extension of the 1979 revolution has been predictably rejected thus far. Hezbollah, for its part, has emerged from political turmoil in Lebanon politically empowered, no longer preoccupied with de-legitimizing the UN-backed tribunal investigating the murder of Rafik Hariri or ousting the Western-supported March 14 bloc. It now employs its rhetoric—if not other means, as the Bahrainis allege—to realign Lebanon with Iran.
Katherine Faley is a research analyst for AEI’s Critical Threats Project.