By Arab News
By Siraj Wahab
Kuwait on Thursday expelled Iranian diplomats after the country’s top court convicted a “terror” cell of links to Tehran.
A Kuwaiti Supreme Court ruling last month convicted 21 people of belonging to a cell that had been formed and trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
The cell’s mastermind was sentenced to life in jail, and 20 others received various prison terms for links with Tehran and Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah, plotting terror attacks in Kuwait and smuggling explosives from Iran.
“Iranian sides helped and supported the cell members,” Kuwait’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
A senior government official told AFP that around 15 Iranian diplomats were expelled. It was not clear if Ambassador Alireza Enayati was among them.
Kuwait also ordered the closure of Iran’s “military, cultural and trade” missions, the official said.
Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah Al-Sabah, state minister for Cabinet affairs and acting information minister, confirmed Kuwait had taken diplomatic action against Iran.
“Following the Supreme Court ruling on the case, the government of Kuwait has decided to take measures, in accordance with diplomatic norms and the Vienna Convention, toward its relations with Iran,” he said.
A Saudi Foreign Ministry official expressed the Kingdom’s support for all measures taken against Iran’s diplomatic mission in Kuwait, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
Unlike most of its fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) partners, Kuwait has maintained good relations with Tehran in recent years.
In February, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited Kuwait City a month after Kuwait entered into a dialogue with his country in a bid to normalize relations.
Harvard scholar and Iranian affairs expert Majid Rafizadeh said Kuwait’s move is calculated, wise and appropriate.
“Before it was too late, and before Iran had established its terror cell or proxy, as it has done in many nations, Kuwait took action,” he told Arab News.
“Other countries should take similar action. Otherwise, when militias or proxies… are set up in a country, it will be too late to take action,” he added.
“Kuwait and its emir are known for their diplomatic skills. This was the first ever expulsion of an ambassador by Kuwait. This shows that Iran has gone too far in breaking the law and endangering its stability. Kuwait followed diplomatic etiquette and law appropriately.”
Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Riyadh-based Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar, said he was not surprised by Iran’s malign activity.
“Iran’s basic idea has always been to incite trouble in the Gulf states and to undermine the stability of our region,” he said.
“The Kuwaiti emir is a statesman, and he was trying to have good relations between his country and Iran. He was acting as a mediator between the GCC countries and Iran. Tehran didn’t respect what the emir and the Kuwaiti state were doing.”
Al-Shehri added: “Iran isn’t looking for a good relationship. It’s looking to incite trouble, create turbulence, interfere and promote sectarianism. This is the problem with Tehran.”
He said if this is what Iran does to a neutral country, one can imagine what it can do to others. “Having diplomatic ties with Iran, or trying to have normal relations with it, is a waste of time,” he said.
“Qatar and Oman, which have a sympathetic attitude toward Iran, must cut all their ties with Tehran because those ties will one day explode in their face. What happened with Kuwait must constitute a good lesson for them.”
Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, told Arab News that the Iranian espionage and terror ring in Kuwait illustrates how Tehran’s regional policy is not run by regular diplomats in the Foreign Ministry.
“Rather, it’s the IRGC that holds the portfolio, and its aim is to use the facade of a normal diplomatic mission to advance its mission of subterfuge and controlled chaos,” he said.
“The IRGC isn’t concerned with diplomatic niceties. It seeks simply to undermine and control, and will use whatever means it has at its disposal to achieve the underhanded objectives of (Supreme Leader Ali) Khamanei.”
Tehran reacted angrily, saying the accusation that it was behind a terrorist cell was baseless. “Iran’s strong objection has been communicated to Kuwait’s charge d’affaires,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said in a statement. “It was reiterated that Iran reserves the right to a reciprocal measure.”
In its annual Country Reports on Terrorism, the US State Department this week said Iran was the world’s “foremost” state sponsor of terrorism in 2016, a dubious distinction the country has held for many years.
It said Tehran was firm in its backing of proxies that have destabilized Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
It added that Iran continued to recruit in Afghanistan and Pakistan for Shiite militia members to fight in Syria and Iraq, and Iranian support for Hezbollah was unchanged.
Tehran used a unit of the IRGC, the Quds Force, “to implement foreign policy goals, provide cover for intelligence operations and create instability in the Middle East,” the report said.