UAE-Iran dispute heightens regional tension

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) condemned Iran for opening two administrative offices on Abu Musa, one of the three disputed islands.

te (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
The ongoing sovereignty dispute between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Iran over the status of three islands is heightening tensions between regional Sunni states and the Shi'ite republic. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) last week condemned Iran for opening two administrative offices on Abu Musa, one of the three disputed islands. The secretary-general of the GCC, which represents Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and the UAE, said this was a "striking violation and illegitimate action," and that the islands were an "inseparable part of the UAE." The UAE's Federal National Council said Iran's opening of the maritime rescue office and ship registration office on Abu Musa was an illegal measure. The UAE claims ownership of Abu Mousa, along with two islands, the Greater Tunb and the Lesser Tunb. Abu Musa is located in the eastern part of the Gulf, spans an area of 12 square kilometers and has a population of no more than 500 people. From the UAE perspective the islands are legally, historically and geographically UAE territory being occupied by Iran. A memorandum of understanding was agreed upon in 1971 which gave the UAE sovereignty but allowed Iran to deploy troops on the island. "Iran, from the UAE perspective, reneged on this and started to encroach on the UAE's part," Abd Al-Khaliq Abdullah, a professor of political science at Emirates University, told The Media Line. This latest spat comes at a time of heightened tension between Iran and the West, which is further straining relations between Iran and its non-Shi'ite neighbors. But despite this recent flareup, Abdullah does not believe this latest development will cause a wider conflict between the UAE and Iran. "There's a recognition that the UAE is not in the mode to confront Iran on this issue, but I think the UAE also recognizes a need to ensure that Iran understands the UAE is firm that it owns these islands." He noted a recent surge in diplomatic pressure on Iran to finalize the matter and resolve the dispute. A member of the UAE's Federal National Council contacted by The Media Line said MPs were not commenting beyond the statement issued by the FNC on the matter. The statement called on Iran to adhere to the Memorandum of Understanding and to remove any illegal installations it had erected on the island. The statement added that it was imperative the dispute be resolved through direct dialogue between the two parties, in accord with international law, or the matter should be presented to the International Court of Justice. "The National Assembly calls on parliamentarians around the world to support the UAE in its legitimate right over these three occupied islands, in accord with principles of international law," it said. The disputed islands are located in the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway which could be shut down by Iran in the event of any attack on Iranian soil. Iran is under international pressure to abandon its controversial nuclear program for fear it is manufacturing a nuclear bomb. Recent military exercises of Israel, the United States and Iran in the region have raised speculation that a military strike on Teheran's nuclear facilities and an ensuing military standoff could be imminent. Iran has threatened that it could respond to any strike on its soil by shutting down the Strait of Hormuz, a measure that could jeopardize global oil supplies. However, Abdullah urged caution in linking the dispute over the islands with the nuclear standoff. "Iran initially occupied the islands because of their strategic position," he said.