Bahraini officials have expressed outrage over repeated references by an Iranian official to their country as "part of Iran".
Earlier this month, Ali Akbar Natiq Nuri, an advisor to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, claimed Bahrain is an integral part of Iran, ruled on and off over the last several hundred years by Iran, but conceded by Iran's Shah Mohammad-Reza Pahlavi in 1970. Bahrain received its independence from the British in 1971.
"If these statements are meant to test the waters then the response was clear internally and externally, and this was affirmed by the magnitude of Gulf Arab and international condemnation to these irresponsible statements," Bahraini Interior Minister Sheikh Rashed bin Abdullah al-Khalifa told the London-based Ash-Sharq il-Awsat newspaper.
Notwithstanding a cryptic response by Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hassan Kashkavi, that Nuri's speech "caused misunderstanding" with "some misinterpretations," neither Khamenei nor Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have offered any apologies or retractions of the insinuations that Iran has a right to the small island kingdom.
The German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported Friday that Iranian shipping vessels were evicted from Bahraini territorial waters. Bahrain also recently halted negotiations to import 1 billion cubic feet of gas per day from Iran through a new pipeline. Bahrain's foreign minister also summoned the Iranian ambassador to submit an official protest to the remarks in early February, according to the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya news organization.
"This continuous repetition can no longer be considered a slip of the tongue or an error in speech," said Ash-Sharq il-Awsat. "There must be a stop to the historical reference upon which Iran relies to justify the idea that it has some sort of right over Bahrain."
According to the London paper, the lack of substantive response by high-level Iranian officials to the insinuations made by the Iranian cleric "is a dangerous political warning and will only add to tension in a region that is already sitting on a minefield and could blow up anytime."
The Islamic island country, populated by 500,000 people, has recently made many pro-Jewish gestures, despite the fact that only 50 Jews currently reside there.
In 2008, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa issued a royal decree appointing female Jewish lawmaker Hoda Nono to the post of ambassador, making her the first Jew in the modern Arab world to become an ambassador. The businesswoman and mother of two, who serves as one of two Jews on the king's 40-member legislative upper chamber, is stationed in Washington.
In November, the king extended an invitation for all Bahraini expatriate Jews to return to live in Bahrain, saying "It's open, it's your country."
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, alternatively, has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel, claiming that the Jews manipulated the Holocaust to gain sympathy for the Jewish state, calling Israelis the "most detested people in all of humanity."