Published: may 02, 2010; Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center.
Tensions escalate once again between UAE and Iran after UAE foreign minister compared “Iranian occupation” to “Israeli occupation.”
Political tensions between Iran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has reached new levels this week following a statement made last week by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE foreign minister, comparing the Iranian occupation of the three disputed islands in the Persian Gulf (Abu Musa, Greater Tunb, and Lesser Tunb) to the Israeli occupation in the PA-administered territories. Unsurprisingly, the foreign minister’s announcement provoked strong reactions in Iran, and the UAE d’affaires was called to a disciplinary meeting in the Tehran Foreign Ministry (various news agencies, April 27).
Ramin Mehmanparast, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, said that the UAE foreign minister’s announcement was unfortunate and baseless. He noted that the three islands have always belonged and will always belong to Iran, and that such statements were not conducive to a peaceful resolution of the misunderstandings between the two countries, saying they could only be sorted out through dialogue. According to Mehmanparast, the rulers of the UAE must avoid making statements that may distract world and Muslim public opinion from the crimes committed by the “Zionist regime” in the occupied territories, and such statements work to Israel’s advantage (IRNA, April 21).
Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the chairman of the Majles National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said in response to the UAE foreign minister’s statements that the latter spoke with the voice of Britain. He noted that Britain and the US always sought to sow conflict in the region, and that it was the pressure they exerted on Arab countries that caused some of those countries to make similar statements. Ever since the Islamic revolution, said Boroujerdi, the US and Britain tried to create fear of Iran among Arab countries in order to compromise their relations and persuade them to purchase Western weapons (Mehr, April 26).
Majles member Heshmatollah Falahat-Pisheh also strongly criticized the statement made by the UAE foreign minister. In an interview to IRNA news agency, the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee member said that the three islands were an inseparable part of Iran’s territory, and that no force would ever be able to separate them from it. He noted that according to all historical documents the islands belonged to Iran, and that the statements of the UAE foreign minister were detrimental to the security of the Persian Gulf, serving the interests of Israel and the US. He also accused the UAE authorities of turning their country into a military base for foreign forces in the Persian Gulf (IRNA, April 26).
Iran’s press also reacted strongly to the statements made by Foreign Minister Al Nahyan. Two editorials published on Asr-e Iran, a website affiliated with the pragmatic conservative camp, claimed that while Gaza Strip residents endured Israeli air strikes during Operation Cast Lead, Arab sheikhs held secret meetings to look for ways to prevent assistance to the Palestinians. The website warned the rulers of the UAE that Iran might use military strength against anyone threatening its territorial integrity. Iran is not interested in war, the website says, and is not interested in conflict with its neighbors; however, it will defend itself against anyone seeking to appropriate its territory. The website says that UAE rulers better pay attention to the stability, economy, and territorial integrity of their own country instead of entertaining notions of territorial expansion. The UAE foreign minister was referred to by the website as a “crude youth” who does not understand how international relations work. According to the website, the foreign minister should remember that he must not have too much faith in the US and Britain, which only support his country out of oil-related interests. UAE senior officials are incorrect in assuming that their relationship with the US is a “catholic marriage”, forgetting how the US had abandoned its allies in the region, including Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein. They are delusional, their actions therefore contradicting the geographical and political limitations of their country. The foreign minister must remember that one day, America and Britain will abandon his country and he will be helpless against Iran, which will never forget the considerable economic assistance extended by the UAE to Iraq during its war against Iran. He must therefore promptly apologize to the Iranian people (Asr-e Iran, April 26).
The conservative daily Keyhan reacted just as strongly to the statements of the UAE foreign minister. In an editorial published by the daily last weekend (April 22), Keyhan extensively covered the historical evidence allegedly proving that the three disputed islands belonged to Iran. According to the daily, the statement made by the foreign minister is proof that the Arab sheikhs of the Persian Gulf are unable to tell friend from enemy. Instead of condemning the new schemes of Israel, which plans to deport tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank, the UAE foreign minister once again brings up unfounded claims regarding Iran’s sovereignty in the three Persian Gulf islands. In recent months, according to the daily, countries in the region have become increasingly concerned over Iran’s impressive achievements in various spheres, including intelligence (such as the arrest of Jondollah leader Abdolmalek Rigi), military (such as the long-range missile test), diplomacy (the failure of the US and its allies to secure the support of the international community for sanctions against Iran and the meeting of the nuclear disarmament conference in Tehran), and politics (the successful handling of the riots which broke out after the presidential elections and the strengthening of Iran’s regional and international status). However, Iran poses no threat to any Arab country, going as far as to announce its willingness to put its technological capabilities at the disposal of the Muslim world. The statements made by the UAE foreign minister therefore do not reflect a concern over Iran’s power, but rather a concern over the possibility of his countrymen rising up against their rulers.
It should be mentioned that the tension between Iran and the UAE over the latter’s territorial demands on the three disputed Persian Gulf islands goes back many years. Situated in the Strait of Hormuz, the islands were occupied by Iran in 1971 and have been a bone of contention between the two countries ever since.