The assassination of a Saudi diplomat in Pakistan came as an Iranian flotilla bound for Bahrain was turned back by warships of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Both incidents are signs that the cold war between Iran and the Persian Gulf States is heating up.
The Saudi diplomat, Hassan al-Qahtani, was killed in the Pakistani city of Karachi by four gunmen of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). His assassination had been preceded days earlier by a hand grenade attack on the Saudi consulate in the same city.
While the TTP claimed responsibility for the attack, calling it a “very good job,” the Saudis discerned another familiar culprit. The Saudi newspaper Al-Jazirah laid blame for the murder squarely at the feet of Iran. It comes as little surprise as the Saudis have been accusing Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) of instigating civil strife in Pakistan through a series of targeted assassinations and mosque burnings.
The killing is just the latest sign of the escalating tension between the Sunni-dominated Persian Gulf States — led by Saudi Arabia — and Shiite-dominated Iran. Tension between the two groups has been rising in intensity since the February revolt of Shiite dissidents in the kingdom of Bahrain, protests which led to the subsequent entry of the GCC to restore order.
So, with Bahrain as the focal point of the current conflict, it seemed apropos that the second escalating incident arrived in the form of a two-ship Iranian flotilla headed toward Bahrain, ostensibly to show support for the Shiite demonstrators locked in battle with Bahrain’s ruling Sunni monarchy.
Unfortunately, it’s not the first time Iran has used a flotilla to stoke an international incident. In June 2010 an Iranian flotilla carrying sixty people was bound for Gaza in an effort to break through Israel’s blockade of the territory before it turned back due to what it called Israeli threats. That incident came after an eight-ship Gaza-bound Turkish flotilla was boarded by Israeli navy commandos in May 2010, an incident where IDF troops where met by a violent mob wielding sticks and knives.
Not surprisingly, Bahrain feared the same result with Iran’s newest flotilla and had warned Iran repeatedly about sending what it called a “sea caravan” to Bahrain. As one Bahraini official said, “This would be a blatant interference in Bahrain’s internal affairs,” adding “Bahrain did not ask for humanitarian aid from the Iranian republic.”
So, when the flotilla — purportedly filled with 120 Iranian students, teachers and clergy — left the Iranian port of Bushehr on Monday, it was turned back after being intercepted by warships from the Peninsula Shield Force, the military arm of the GCC.
According to Shaykh Fawwaz Bin-Muhammad Al-Khalifah, president of the Bahraini Information Affairs Authority, the Persian Gulf states had responded to what they believed was “Iranian interference.”
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