Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Iran Continues Subversion Despite the Nuclear Negotiations

by Elliott Abrams
January 3, 2014


The Obama administration is fighting strongly to prevent Congress from adopting new sanctions legislation that would go into effect one year from now if, and only if, the nuclear negotiations fail or Iran cheats on its commitments. It seems that adopting such legislation would anger the Iranian regime, and would be contrary to the spirit of the talks. Or something like that.

But while we are told to walk on eggshells lest we offend the delicate Iranians, they continue to subvert their neighbors. Not for them this idea that, because there are talks, they should stop shipping arms. Syria is the obvious case, but now we have a new one: Bahrain.  This week Bahraini authorities discovered “plastic explosives, detonators, bombs, automatic rifles and ammunition” which “were found in a warehouse and onboard a boat intercepted as it was heading to the country.” To be more precise, Gulf News reported that

Iranian-made explosives, Syrian bomb detonators, Kalashnikovs, C-4 explosives, Claymores, hand grenades, a PK machine gun, circuit boards for use in bomb making, armour-piercing explosives, TNT and a raft of other materials used to manufacture bombs were discovered.

Is this just propaganda from the Government of Bahrain? No; I’ve checked with US authorities and these reports are accurate.

This is of course very worrying for Bahrain; an Iranian campaign of subversion and terrorism could turn the tiny country into a war zone. I’ve written on this site many times about the need for progress in negotiations between the royal family and the majority-Shia population (most recently here), but obviously the Iranian subversion is not an effort to promote peace and democracy in Bahrain. It is among other things an effort to tell the Gulf Arab states that Iran can make their lives miserable if they continue to oppose its policies.

It is striking that at the very moment when the Obama administration is pleading with Congress to be very careful in its behavior, the Iranian regime has no fears and no hesitation to engage in this subversion. They must have calculated that the Obama administration is so committed to these nuclear talks, and so committed to the “Rouhani narrative” –that Rouhani is a moderate and we must help him succeed– that nothing they do will affect administration policy. Sadly, and dangerously, they appear to be right. Not these arms shipments to Bahrain, nor shipments early last year to Yemen, nor the famous plot to blow up the Saudi ambassador in a restaurant in Washington, D.C. have had the slightest impact on administration policy.

This helps explain why the Arabs are so nervous: they see the United States hell-bent on a nuclear deal and willing to ignore everything else the Iranian regime is doing. It’s an analogue to Obama policy in Syria, where we have embraced a deal on chemical weapons that leaves Assad free to murder as many people as he likes as long as he does not use that one method.

For a couple of years after the protests began in Bahrain, Iran limited itself to broadcasting nasty material in Arabic, and did not try to subvert the country. U.S. officials repeatedly told me we simply had no evidence of armed subversion. Well, now we do. What will the American reaction be? Nothing– you see, this is a delicate moment and we don’t want to upset the nuclear talks. One can only imagine the satisfied laughter such a position causes in Tehran. And the fear it engenders in capitals like Manama, Riyadh, and Abu Dhabi.



Post a Comment 7 Comments

  • Posted by kevin

    this basterd author sees syrian peoples being killed for demanding democracy in country! but he can not see behrainese people are victim of their dictator’s regime

  • Posted by Tired

    Oh, those poor, poor Arabs.

  • Posted by Wim Roffel

    With Bahrain’s status as a semi-colony of Saudi Arabia one could imagine that not only the Iranians but also the Syrians and other countries harassed by Saudi sponsored terrorists have a motive to make trouble in Bahrain. Not to mention that this could be a Saudi or Israeli false flag operation to torpedo the agreement with Iran.

    In the past Iran has indicated that a wider agreement with the US is possible.

  • Posted by Marty Hisington (@Trackerinblue)

    Bahraini government claims are some of the worst fiction ever written. They’ve been inventing plots that involve Iran for decades and now call any demonstration for political and civil rights “terrorism.”
    Repeating that word over and over seems to have gotten Mr.Abrams to believe it. That’s a real shame since I always thought he had a brilliant mind.
    I won’t take the space here to list all the outright lies told by the Bahraini regime, but suffice it to say, it’s almost EVERYTHING they say.

  • Posted by Troy Carter

    Citing anonymous government sources is qualitatively equivalent to the Gulf Daily News report you felt the need to fact-check. So why should we believe one government but not the other? And you have no credibility as a reporter of factual truths.

  • Posted by A.B.

    Not sure about some of the comments here, but there is an attempt to arm an ongoing low intesity Shirazi insurgency in Bahrain. The fact is Bahrain is a target for Iran. (14th province) This is well documented and clearly stated by some of their policy makers and leaders of the IRGC. The same objectives were announced by their clerics in Bahrain when they blockaded the capital in 2011, so you can understand that this is deeply religious and sectarian. It is also a fact that the same groups claiming to want ‘more democracy’ are Hezbollah affiliates who operate under the Welayat Al Faqih umbrella. Namely the supreme Ayatollahs, Khamenai of Iran. I think Mr. Abrams is quite accurate in his description of the general mood. Iran is doing alot in all those countries but it seems to fall of the U.S. foreign policy radar. Deliberately done or not, the formula is destabilizing.

  • Posted by William

    A.B.’s commentary on Bahrain & Iran is very precise and accurate. Bravo for your clarity.
    And cudos,bravos as well to Elliott Abrams, who has long understood the emerging danger of the Islamic Republic of Iran. And to his credit, he has never waivered from his view of the theocratic dictatorship. Please keep speaking out & Thank you, sir.
    The other comments on this article would seem to represent a part of the American underbelly Tehran sees as part of its long game advantage vs the West.
    Shifting the focus to Bahrain’s veracity when the subject is IRAN and its ongoing destabilizing campaigns of terror by surrogates?? Oh, pleasssse….get a grip on the harsh reality of Iran’s leadership since ’79, people. Not a pretty picture and may soon get even uglier. For a ‘Green’ Iranian people…..my best.

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