Kuwait tells Iran that GCC security is ‘red line’
KUWAIT CITY - Tensions between Iran and the Gulf Arab state of Kuwait escalated when Kuwait’s maritime security forces arrested ten Iranian sailors suspected of illegally entering Kuwaiti waters.
The Kuwait Coast Guard spotted ten “Iranian infiltrators” on radar illegally entering Kuwait territory, the Kuwaiti government said. Kuwaiti security forces surrounded the ship and an Iranian on board was reportedly injured while resisting arrest.
The official Kuwait news agency published pictures of nine of the Iranian sailors on their knees with their hands tied behind their backs, photos similar to those of US Navy sailors arrested by Iranian authorities in January.
The Kuwait incident was met with an angry response from authorities in Tehran who insisted the Iranian sailors had entered Kuwaiti waters legally.
Iran’s state Fars news agency quoted the commander of Iran’s coast guard as saying the detained Iranian nationals were fishermen who had been arrested due to an “altercation that had broken out in Kuwait and not border violation”.
Iran’s mission in Kuwait was reportedly following the case and the detained Iranians were in good health, the agency said.
Kuwaiti National Assembly Speaker Marzouq al-Ghanim said Kuwait and the other five Gulf Arab states that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council desired good relations with Iran but that the security and stability of the GCC was a “red line that will not be compromised”.
Despite attempts by both countries to mend fences on a number of occasions and the exchange of visits by officials, the latest incident follows a series of events that has soured relations between the two nations.
In late July, both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait filed complaints with the United Nations over what they said were Iranian maritime transgressions. During that same period, an appeals court in Kuwait upheld the death sentence of a man convicted of spying for Iran and who was part of a Hezbollah cell.
During the raid that led to the break-up of the cell, Kuwaiti authorities found 56 rocket-propelled grenade shells and ammunition in a farm belonging to one of the suspects near the Kuwait-Iraq border. Officials also seized weapons, ammunition and explosive materials in the homes of the two other suspects.
Authorities said the three confessed to being members of a terrorist organisation and led security forces to where their arsenal, including 144 kilograms of explosives, was hidden.
Hezbollah operatives and members of the Islamic Dawa Party, both affiliated with Iran, carried out a number of bombings in 1983 in Kuwait that killed six people. The attacks targeted Western embassies, the Kuwait airport and an oil rig belonging to the Kuwait National Petroleum Company, among other targets.
Kuwait recalled its ambassador from Iran in January after a mob attacked the Saudi embassy in protest of the execution of a radical Saudi Shia cleric.
However, sectarianism is not a factor in the poor relations. Kuwait has long been known for its tolerance of different Islamic sects, Shia Muslims make up 30% of the population, while in its parliament coalitions composed of different sects work together.