Saudi Arabia-Iran row: Bahrain, Sudan and UAE act against Tehran

Bahraini protesters hold pictures of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Daih, Bahrain, 3 Jan

A number of nations allied to Saudi Arabia have joined diplomatic action against Iran, amid a row over the Saudi execution of a Shia Muslim cleric.

Bahrain has cut ties, Sudan has expelled Iran’s ambassador and the UAE has downgraded its diplomatic team.

Saudi Arabia on Sunday gave Iranian diplomats two days to leave after an attack on its embassy in Tehran.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are the key Sunni and Shia powers in the region and back opposing sides in Syria and Yemen.

Bahrain, which is ruled by a Sunni Muslim king but has a majority Shia population, on Monday gave Iranian diplomats 48 hours to leave the country.

It accused Iran of “increasing, flagrant and dangerous meddling” in the internal affairs of Gulf and Arab states.

It said the attack on the Saudi embassy was part of a “very dangerous pattern of sectarian policies that should be confronted… to preserve security and stability in the entire region”.

Bahrain, which hosts the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, has frequently accused Iran of supporting a low-level Shia insurgency that flared following the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011.

The United Arab Emirates said it was downgrading its diplomatic representation in Tehran and will cut the number of Iranian diplomats in the country.

There are fears sectarian strife may spread in the region following the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and 46 others in Saudi Arabia on Saturday after they were convicted of terror-related offences.

On Monday, two Sunni mosques in Iraq were bombed and an imam killed.

Analysis: Jonathan Marcus, BBC defence and diplomatic correspondent

Ties between Iran and Bahrain have long been difficult; influenced by many of the same factors that have poisoned Saudi-Iranian relations.

Bahrain has suffered considerable internal turmoil over the past year and has clamped down heavily, with claims that Iran is behind much of the unrest.

Last July, Bahrain recalled its ambassador to Tehran after it foiled an arms smuggling plot which it attributed to Iranian-backed elements.

The demise of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq – which always served as an Arab counter-weight to Tehran – has resulted in a growing regional role for Iran, which the Gulf Arabs see as a serious threat.

The US-Iran nuclear deal has also increased sensitivities in the region as has the continuing struggle in Syria, in which the Gulf Arabs and Tehran are on very different sides.

‘Pursuing confrontation’

Saudi Arabia announced late on Sunday that it was severing diplomatic relations with Iran after demonstrators stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. It has recalled its own diplomats.

Iran’s foreign ministry on Monday accused the Saudis of “continuing the policy of increasing tension and clashes in the region”.

Ministry spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari said: “Saudi Arabia sees not only its interests but also its existence in pursuing crises and confrontations and attempts to resolve its internal problems by exporting them to the outside.”

He defended Iran’s response to the embassy attack, saying it had “acted in accordance with its obligations to control the broad wave of popular emotion”. Fifty arrests were made.

Iran’s first vice-president, Eshaq Jahangiri, said it would be Saudi Arabia that lost out by severing ties, accusing it of “hasty and illogical actions”.

But in announcing the cut in ties, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said accused Iran of having “distributed weapons and planted terrorist cells in the region”.

“Iran’s history is full of negative interference and hostility in Arab issues, and it is always accompanied by destruction,” he said.

In other developments:

  • Bomb blasts rock two Sunni mosques in and around Hilla, 80km (50 miles) south of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. A muezzin of one of the mosques is killed
  • The Sunni imam of a mosque in Alexandria, north of Babylon in Iraq, is killed by gunmen
  • Police come under heavy gunfire in Sheikh Nimr’s hometown, Awamiya in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, on Sunday night, leaving one civilian dead and a child injured

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