Iran blames tensions with Kuwait on US and Israel
London - During a Friday sermon in Tehran, hard-line Iranian cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami blamed the United States and Israel for allegations from Kuwait that Iran was linked to the Shia al-Abdali terror cell, claims that resulted in Kuwaiti officials downgrading diplomatic ties to Iran.
Kuwaiti security forces were reportedly searching for 14 Kuwaiti nationals and an Iranian tied to the cell who were convicted of espionage and other crimes against the state.
“As for the game that Kuwait has started with the Islamic Republic, I would like to say something that is clear to everyone: It is crystal clear that the American-Zionist lobby is doing all it can to ruin the Islamic Republic of Iran’s relations with its neighbours,” Khatami said in a sermon broadcast on Radio Tehran.
Iran’s cultural mission and its military office were closed July 20 by Kuwaiti officials. Kuwait stopped short of expelling Iran’s ambassador but the Iranian Embassy was requested to downsize its diplomatic mission from 19 to four representatives within 45 days.
Kuwaiti officials, who spoke to The Arab Weekly on condition of anonymity, said the measures taken by the government were aimed at sending a “strong warning” message to Iran without cutting ties with it.
The sources said the Kuwaiti moves reflected concerns that Iran would take advantage of the expulsion of the Islamic State (ISIS) from Mosul to direct Shia militias to Saudi and Kuwaiti borders to pressure the two countries from within Iraqi territory.
The Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry summoned Iranian Ambassador Ali-Reza Enayati to inform him of the government’s decision to downgrade diplomatic ties. In response, officials in Iran summoned the Kuwaiti Embassy’s chargé d’affaires and logged a complaint, claiming the accusations were “baseless.”
A day after announcing the downgrading of ties with Iran, Kuwait made an official complaint with the government of Lebanon.
In a strongly worded letter, Kuwaiti Ambassador to Lebanon Abdelaal al-Qenaei urged the Lebanese government to “assume its responsibilities towards irresponsible practices by Hezbollah.” He also called on Beirut to take measures to deter such “heinous” practices by the Iran-sponsored group.
Kuwait and Hezbollah share a tragic history dating to 1983, when Hezbollah operatives and members of the Iraqi Dawa affiliated with Iran carried out bombings that resulted in the death of six people. Coordinated attacks targeted Western embassies, the Kuwait airport and an oil rig belonging to the Kuwait National Petroleum Company, among other targets.
Over the decades the Kuwaiti government said it has uncovered several cells affiliated with the group and Iran and as recently as last year deported 60 Lebanese nationals for alleged links to Hezbollah.
Kuwaiti Member of Parliament Waleed al-Tabtabai submitted draft legislation mandating prison sentences of up to 20 years for supporters and members of the Hezbollah movement and proposing to label the group a “terrorist organisation.”
Members of al-Abdali were arrested in 2015 on a farm on the Kuwait- Iraq border. The Kuwaiti Interior Ministry said police found 56 rocket-propelled grenades and other types of ammunition. The ministry said weapons and various explosive materials were discovered in the homes of two other suspects in a different location.
Authorities found the cache of weapons and explosives after members of the group confessed to belonging to a terrorist organisation and led authorities to the arsenal.
Kuwait is generally considered a regional diplomatic broker and the expulsion of Iranian diplomats is one of its most severe reactions to Iranian interference in recent history. It is trying to mediate in the Gulf Cooperation Council crisis involving Saudi Arabia and its allies and Qatar, due to Doha’s suspected support for terrorism and ties to Iran.