Iran builds up military on disputed islands
F. Michael Maloof
Signals intent to threaten closure of Strait of Hormuz
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WASHINGTON – Iran is rushing to reinforce three strategically located islands in the middle of the Persian Gulf near the Strait of Hormuz despite a dispute Tehran has had with the United Arab Emirates over ownership, and the move could portend the passage’s closing if Iran’s nuclear facilities are attacked, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
Analysts have seen a significant military buildup on the three islands Iran claims, despite a counterclaim by officials with the UAE, whose population comprises a significant number of residents who are of Iranian descent.
The three islands at the center of the battle are Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb. They are very small – less than 10 square miles of land, but they are located in the strategically significant Strait of Hormuz through which some 40 percent of the world’s oil transits.
Iran has been in control of the islands since 1971. Not surprisingly, however, members of the Gulf Cooperation Council which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have backed the UAE’s claim over the islands.
Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia – all Sunni monarchies — are most out front in trying to limit Iran’s influence over the other Arab countries, which are seeing an upsurge in Shi’ites, with Iran’s backing, staging demonstrations in their own countries. They also oppose any further extension of Iran’s influence in the Gulf Arab countries, which is the reason why Qatar and Saudi Arabia especially are financing and supplying arms to topple the Syrian regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for his alliance with Iran.
That alliance has extended Iran’s influence from the Mediterranean Sea to Central Asia and these Arab countries now see Iran backing the Shi’ite demonstrations in those nations. The demonstrations are seen as a threat to those Sunni monarchies.
Despite claims that have lingered since 1971, the issue came to a head when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited one of the islands last April. The GCC’s response was immediate. Officials condemned the visit and claimed it was a “provocative act and a flagrant violation of sovereignty of the United Arab Emirates over its three islands.”
In what could be an omen for potential hostilities, the GCC countries offered to assist the UAE “in all actions it takes to regain its rights and sovereignty over its islands,” implying possible military action if necessary.
With the threat of military action, analysts say, the UAE hopes that it will force Iran to make concessions to lessen its influence on the islands and indeed throughout the GCC countries.
Because the GCC countries rely heavily on the Strait of Hormuz to take exports out of the region, tension over the group of islands may serve as an indicator of whether Iran will close down the Strait and halt shipping from the Persian Gulf. That, in turn, would force the West to act to reopen the Strait.
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