Bahrain Opens to Iran: Last Stage of Shifting Gulf Dynamics

Bahrain flag
The flag of the Kingdom of Bahrain (Credits: Foto di engin akyurt su Unsplash)

Persian Files ISSN 2975-0598 Volume 22 Issue 2
Author: Silvia Boltuc

In a surprising turn of events, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa signalled a potential thaw in relations with Iran during his recent visit to Russia.

On May 25th, 2024, the King expressed Bahrain’s willingness to normalise diplomatic ties with Iran, marking a significant shift after a period of heightened tensions. This development follows the recent rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, suggesting a broader trend of regional reconciliation.

King Hamad’s statement could be seen as a positive step towards improved relations between Bahrain and Iran, potentially aligning with the goals of Iranian President Raisi’s administration.

Iran-Bahrain: From Historical Claims to Pathways of Normalisation

During King Hamad’s discussion with President Putin, the Bahraini head of state announced that Manama had previously experienced issues with Tehran, but these problems have now been resolved. The King asserted that there is no reason for delaying the normalisation of relations. Emphasising the principle of good neighbourliness, he stated Bahrain is committed to establishing normal diplomatic, trade, and cultural relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Over the years, Iranian media have frequently revived an old territorial claim, asserting that Bahrain is Iran’s 14th province, known as Mishmahig.

In the 1800s, Sheikh Abdul Al Khalifeh repeatedly declared Bahrain’s dependence on the Iranian government or sought Iran’s protection, first from the Egyptian Mohammad Pasha and later from the British. However, the Government of British India ultimately overpowered Bahrain in 1861.

In 1927, Reza Shah demanded Bahrain’s return in a letter to the Allied Nations Community.

Bahrainis repeatedly rose against British rule. In November 1957, the Iranian Parliament passed a bill declaring Bahrain as Iran’s 14th province, even designating two empty seats for its representatives.

However, in 1970, Iran and Britain agreed to a United Nations-conducted plebiscite, leading to Bahrain’s independence. In 1971, Iran ratified the United Nations resolution, recognising Bahrain’s complete sovereignty and freedom to choose its relations with other nations.

The ‘Bahrain issue’ has caused several troubles over the years, not only with Manama but also with Riyadh. Several times, Saudi Arabia has proven its strategic interests in the country. For instance, Riyadh provides Bahrain with substantial financial support and intervened in 2011 to help Manama’s government repress protests (inspired by the unrest of the Arab Spring).

In addition to historical territorial claims, Iran and Bahrain maintain a tense relationship because of Manama’s alliances. Apart from Saudi Arabia, Manama’s ties with Tel Aviv and Washington have been a significant concern for Tehran.

In 2020, Bahrain, along with the UAE, normalised diplomatic ties with Israel under the US-brokered Abraham Accords. In 2022, Bahrain and Israel signed a defence agreement covering intelligence, military, and industrial collaboration, followed by a free trade agreement.

Bahrain is also a key US ally. The Gulf country is critical to American interests in the region as it hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet and the headquarters of the US Naval Forces Central Command. The US deploys thousands of military personnel in Bahrain, which designates it as a major non-NATO ally.

In September 2023, Washington and Manama signed a strategic security and economic agreement. Particularly, the pact will strengthen the coordination between their armed forces and integrating their intelligence capacities. In the legally binding agreement, the United States commits to consult and provide assistance if Bahrain faces an imminent security threat. Never before has the United States gone so far in extending such a security pledge to an Arab state.

Undoubtedly, Bahrain functions as a strategic outpost for the United States in the Gulf region, providing a platform for Washington to implement policies aimed at countering Iran’s influence.


The recent statements by the King of Bahrain regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran reflect the shifting dynamics of global geopolitical balances.

Throughout the years, Bahrain has normalised relations with Israel and hosts a US military contingent, while Iran’s territorial claims have led to several diplomatic incidents.

The current changing scenario is driven by two trends. First, the US commitment to defend Bahrain in the event of an attack has provided the country with the confidence to engage more openly with Iran.

Second, despite the death of President Raisi and his delegates, this diplomatic success can be attributed to his administration, particularly the efforts of the deceased Iranian Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian. Indeed, the King of Bahrain’s reference to normalising relations with Iran as a ‘policy of good neighbourliness’ echoes the terminology used by the Iranian government to describe its regional strategy under Raisi’s presidency.

It is important to add that the Biden administration’s policies toward the Gulf have been at times counterproductive. This might have further pushed regional actors to diversify the international alliances.

The United States’ stance on the Israeli military offensive in Gaza has prompted Arab League actors to consider more impartial mediator capable of facilitating a ceasefire. Notably, King Hamad emphasised the importance of Russia’s support for the proposed peace conference to resolve the Middle East conflict that will be hosted in the Kingdom.

Regarding the Palestinian cause and the ongoing crisis in Gaza, Iran has assumed a prominent role in international negotiations, spanning forums from the United Nations to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Additionally, Iran’s substantial influence across the Middle Eastern region, facilitated through the resistance network with Amir-Abdollahian as a key reference figure, has led many regional countries to reassess the strategic importance of engaging with Tehran.

While Iran emerging from regional isolation may undermine Western efforts to affect the country’s economy through sanctions, the normalisation of relations with Gulf states could lead to greater stability in the Persian Gulf and enhanced cooperation on regional issues.

Read also | Persian Files ISSN 2975-0598 Report “Discovering the Geopolitics of the Islamic Republic of Iran”

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