Revolutionary Guard Chief exacerbates UAE-Iran island dispute

Article Highlights

  • Iran’s dispute with the UAE over possession of Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tonb Islands predates the Islamic Revolution.

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  • IRGC commander Muhammad Ali Jafari’s visit to Abu Musa reinforces that the Islamic Republic remains confident and resurgent.

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  • Concerns over nuclear ambitions and its sponsorship of terrorism dominate American strategic thinking regarding Iran.

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Editor's Note: FMSO’s Operational Environment Watch provides translated selections and analysis from a diverse range of foreign articles and other media that analysts and expert contributors believe will give military and security experts an added dimension to their critical thinking about the Operational Environment.

Source: Estikbar az Gostaresh-e negah va tafakiri basiji dar jehan emrouz be vahshat aftadeh ast” (“The Arrogance has Fallen into a Panic over the Spread of Basiji Thought in the World Today,”) Fars News.com. 31 May 2012.

Michael Rubin: Concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its sponsorship of terrorism dominate American strategic thinking regarding Iran. Within the Persian Gulf, however, pre-existing disputes simmer. Iranian nationalists, for example, have never fully reconciled themselves to Bahraini independence; they still consider Bahrain a renegade province separated from Iranian control by the Portuguese in the early sixteenth century. In 2007 a major Iranian paper, whose editor the Supreme Leader appoints directly, revived the Islamic Republic’s claims to Bahrain, and in recent weeks Iranian officials have increased demands to bring Bahrain back into the Iranian fold, as a response to Saudi moves for confederation with the Arab island nation.

Iran’s dispute with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over possession of Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tonb Islands also predates the Islamic Revolution. In 1971 Iranian troops invaded the three islands despite international agreements awarding them to the United Arab Emirates. Abu Musa is approximately 50 miles from the coast of Iran and 40 miles from the coast of the UAE. It lies only ten miles from the Strait of Hormuz, however, and tanker traffic must pass between it and the Tonb Islands, amplifying Iranian strategic leverage.

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander Muhammad Ali Jafari’s surprise visit to Abu Musa reinforces Iran’s claim and signals to littoral Arab states that the Islamic Republic remains both confident and resurgent in the face of international condemnation. That Ali Fadavi, the commander of the IRGC-Navy, also visited Abu Musa suggests an implied threat to international shipping, as he has advocated asymmetric warfare and developed the IRGC-Navy’s small boat swarming tactics.

While Jafari and Fadavi seek to exert and confirm Iranian power, they may also spark a backlash within the United Arab Emirates, much as recent Iranian actions have in other Gulf Cooperation Council states. If four decades of Iranian control of Abu Musa and the Tonbs affirm the notion that possession is nine-tenths of the law, then the UAE may very well consider its own unilateral contingencies, should an international conflict with Iran divert Tehran’s attention from the contested five-squaremile island off the United Arab Emirates’ shore.

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