GCC and other Arab states have condemned a visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the island of Abu Musa, which the UAE accuses Iran of illegally occupying. Ahmadinejad visited one of three islands off the shore of the UAE, that Iran occupies. The other two are the Greater and Lesser Tunb.
The UAE government recalled its ambassador to Tehran and the Arab League has condemned what it saw was a provocation. The GCC has called for an extraordinary meeting to be held later in the week in Qatar.
During the same week, an Iranian tourism company announced that it was launching tourism trips to the islands. Such an announcement would not have been made without close consultation with the Iranian government.
April 10-15, 2011
Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk
The UAE occupied islands have been a source of tension between the UAE and Iran since the UAE’s independence in 1971. Successive Iranian regimes have claimed sovereignty of the islands which are strategically located at the entrance to the Straits of Hormuz. The islands have been used by Saddam Hussein as an example of Arab land occupied by Iran during the Gulf War of 1980-1988. In addition to their strategic and political importance, the islands are thought to have sizeable oil reserves.
The visit by the Iranian president is a rare and unusual one, and comes at a time of escalating tensions between Iran and the West over Iran’s nuclear programme. The timing of the visit makes it seen as a provocation to both the West as well as the Arab Gulf states. It is an implicit threat by the Iranians to the Gulf states in the event that they supported a military strike against Iran, and to the West in reinforcing Iran’s strategic position in those islands should the Iranians decide to carry out their threat of closing off the Strait of Hormuz in the event of an attack. Most of the Gulf-produced oil and gas passes through the Straits on its way to other parts of the world. Such closure means that up to forty percent of the world’s oil supply could be cut-off.
The visit by the Iranian president to those islands represents an escalation by the Iranian side and a reminder that Gulf nations may be targets of Iranian attacks, should the West or Israel attack Iran.