- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bahrain’s ambassador to the United States told The Washington Times that she fears her country — home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet — could become the first casualty of a nuclear-armed Iran.

“Iran has had claims in the past on Bahrain,” Ambassador Houda Nonoo said in an interview. “The latest was on their 30th anniversary in February 2009, where they mentioned Bahrain as the 14th province. Very similar to [Saddam Hussein’s] Iraq mentioning Kuwait as their 19th province.”

“We’re a small country, we’re just across the pond,” she said, noting that the island nation is “just 26 miles away from Bushehr,” the Iranian port city that hosts one of the nuclear program’s key installations. “If Iran has [a nuclear] capability, nobody is going to be able to stop them.”

Bahrain is widely seen as the most vulnerable of the Persian Gulf states, with fears that Iran — which has long spoken of exporting its Shiite Islamic revolution — would try to turn the region’s Shiites against their Sunni leaders.

After months of riots, Bahrain’s Sunni-dominated government recently arrested scores of high-profile opposition figures, all representing the country’s Shiite majority, on charges of plotting a government overthrow.

Bahraini officials have said they are not charging the detainees with acting on orders from Tehran, but observers say Bahrain constantly sees Iran’s hidden hand in its domestic unrest.

“I’ve visited Bahrain and spoken to senior Bahraini officials, and although in public they are cautious not to inflame their delicate relations with Iran, they say in private that Iran is a malevolent force against the region in general and Bahrain in particular,” said Simon Henderson, a Gulf analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “At the very least, they fear instability in their own country but also Iranian-supported insurrection and, in a worst-case scenario, an Iranian takeover.”

“If they woke up tomorrow and there was smoke emerging from Natanz after a bombing raid, they would be very happy,” he added, referring to an Iranian nuclear facility.

Shmuel Bar, director of studies at the Israel-based Institute of Policy and Strategy, echoed Mr. Henderson’s assessment on Bahrain’s cost-benefit analysis and extended it to neighboring states.

“They’d be very relieved despite the fallout,” he said. “This is not speculation.”

Ms. Nonoo’s counterpart from the United Arab Emirates, Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba, said publicly in July that he preferred the military option to a nuclear Iran, but Ms. Nonoo declined to express a preference: “That’s the million-dollar question,” she said.

The Obama administration and the Israeli government have refused to take the military option off the table, but have expressed hope that Iran could be stopped by other means.

Though the U.S., the U.N. Security Council and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Iran recently, Ms. Nonoo was downbeat on their odds for success.

“The sanctions never had a chance of working because they’ve placed so many sanctions before, and they’ve never worked,” she said. “Why was this one going to be any different?”

Iran repeatedly has denied that its nuclear program aims to manufacture an atomic weapon.

In an interview, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, applauded the Obama administration’s moves last week against eight Iranian officials charged with human rights abuses. He said it is crucial that “there’s no place that they can go — and certainly in the West — where they wouldn’t be subject to sanctions and/or worse.”

The administration also sanctioned a Swiss-based company said to have engaged in prohibited energy trade with Iran. “I think they should go further,” Mr. McCain said, “but I at least am pleased that they took this step.”

Still, he echoed Ms. Nonoo’s doubts that the sanctions would achieve their ultimate objective.

“The reality is that it may be too late to prevent the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons,” Mr. McCain said. “Now, I’m not saying we should quit trying. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to take every measure that we can. But some of these measures, I think, could have been far more effective if we’d have taken them some years ago — and I think that’s the opinion of most experts.”

• Ben Birnbaum can be reached at 138247@example.com.

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