Manama: Iran was heavily criticised at an international security conference in Manama where it was accused of representing the dark side.
Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmad Al Khalifa said at the Manama Dialogue here yesterday that the underlying theme tying all the crises in the region was the attempt by Iran’s decades-long quest to impose its hegemony on others, spread its revolution and control more territory through proxies.
“Iran’s interference in the affairs of Yemen and its support to the terrorist Al Houthis has prolonged the conflict and contributes to Al Houthis’ unwillingness to return to the political process that all Yemeni parties agreed to in 2012 and to abandon their armed rebellion,” Shaikh Khalid said.
Leaders in Iraq, and in Lebanon, are attempting to guide their nations towards the path of prosperity, but they are confronted by Iranian-backed groups or individuals who place loyalty to Tehran over the national interest of their countries, resulting in bad governance, inefficiency, and ultimately political paralysis, he added.
“Hezbollah and associated groups continue to use bases in Lebanon and Iraq to destabilise the region.
"Young men and women are recruited from across the region and trained in bomb-making, weapons smuggling and military tactics and then sent back to destabilise their countries and advance the Iranian regime’s hegemonic ambitions.”
Such ambitions in the region contribute to a constant source of tension and distrust among regional states and make existing crises even worse, he warned.
In response to the problem of regional hegemonic ambitions, countries that have a role and a stake in the region such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Russia must engage with the region and with one another to help restore stability, Shaikh Khalid added
Middle East Stragegic Alliance
“I would like to point out the importance of the proposal from the US to establish the Middle East Strategic Alliance (Mesa) as part of the solution to the problems we face in the region. Mesa is not against anyone, it is an alliance for security and prosperity in the region and it will be open to those who accept its principles.
"Through Mesa, we aim to boost the collective security of the region and make sure our defence partnerships are ready to withstand the challenges of the 21st century — including terrorism, cyber security and the effects of rogue states,” he said.
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir said the current crises plaguing the region are driven by regional actors bent on changing the regional order, rather than outside powers trying to dominate the Middle East.
“The primary regional actor of stability has been Khomeini’s revolutionary Iran and the behaviour and the actions of the Iranian state ever since,” Al Jubeir told the Manama Dialogue at the Bahraini capital on Saturday.
There are significant changes in the region, and there is a focus on economic growth and diversification, innovation, technology, efficiency, youth, women empowerment, the creation of transparent and accountable governments that can provide a better future for citizens and in the process improve the standards of living, which will contribute to stability, he added. “We are now dealing in the Middle East with two competing visions. One is a vision of light that seeks all the things I mentioned. The other vision is of darkness, which seeks to spread sectarianism, encourage terrorism, dominate other countries and destabilise the region. One is what we stand for in Saudi Arabia and in the Gulf countries; the other is what Iran stands for,” he said, adding that throughout history, light has always triumphed over darkness.
Al Jubeir said he was confident the region will overcome the challenges like it has done for decades.
Forces of darkness
“I have no concerns where the region will end up. It will end up in a better, more prosperous and peaceful place.
"The challenge we have is how we deal with the forces of darkness, how we push back against them and how we persuade them either to evolve into something else or how we will defeat them,” he said.
Al Jubeir insisted that the Saudi strategy has been “fairly effective”.
“In the past few years, we have isolated Iran in the Islamic world and in Africa. Iran’s friends and relationships are shrinking. Now, the Iranians are facing severe sanctions that will become worse in November. Iran, as the primary sponsor of terrorism in the world, cannot continue with business as usual.”
In his keynote address, US Defence Secretary James Mattis reiterated US support for the stability and security of the region and warned that Washington would not remain idle if Tehran sought to pursue nuclear weapons.
“The US is committed to working alongside to reinforce dynamic international response to regional challenges,” he said.
“A stable Middle East underpins a stable world. Instability does not respect international borders. It grows and spreads if left unchecked.
"Like-minded nations here today do not seek war or conflict. Yet, we cannot ignore the malign influence and destabilising behaviour pursued by violent extremist organisations and by Iran‘s outlaw regime.”
Mattis listed some of the “negative actions” taken by Iran in several countries in the region, including supporting Al Qaida leaders and offering them safe havens.
Iran's unsafe, reckless behaviour
“We stand against Iran’s unsafe and reckless behaviour that flouts freedom of navigation and disrupts maritime security and global trade,” he said.
He added that the fact that Iran operated through proxy forces did not lessen its culpability or their accountability towards the international community.
“We will not stand idly by as Iran attempts to pursue nuclear weapons,” he warned.
He backed Saudi Arabia against Iranian-backed Al Houthi rebels in Yemen. “I reiterate US support for our partners’ right to defend themselves against Iranian-supplied [Al] Houthi attacks on their sovereign territory,” he said.