Iran sends military to disputed Gulf islands

By Daniel Shane

Iran claims it has deployed forces to three disputed Arabian Gulf islands currently the subject of a diplomatic tussle between the Islamic Republic and the UAE.

Speaking to semi-official Iranian news agency Fars, Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, commander of the Revolutionary Guard’s (IRGC) Naval Forces, said that personnel and military hardware had been moved to the islands, which are claimed by both the UAE and Iran.

“Various types of offensive and defensive systems, including brigades of IRGC marines, have been deployed in the Iranian islands, specially in Abu Musa, the Lesser Tunb and the Greater Tunb,” he said.

“Owing to the position of these islands, both in terms of defence and offence, the IRGC navy will allow no enemy to step onto these islands and even enter their territorial waters,” Fadavi continued. He added that any incursions on to the islands would prompt a “strong response” from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Faddavi’s comments come as members of the Joint Peninsula Shield, a Gulf military alliance, announced today they will hold a naval training exercise in the Arabian Gulf early next week.

The 29-30 April drill, dubbed ‘Islands of Loyalty’, will “test the harmony and coordination among ground, air and naval forces and their readiness and abilities to carry out special, limited and major missions along coasts and islands within the territorial waters in light of the current developments,” reported government news agency WAM.

Earlier this month, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made an official visit to Abu Musa, one of three disputed islands claimed by both Iran and the UAE.

His visit prompted strong condemnation from not only governments within the GCC, but also the US, France, Italy and others. The Emirati government has since said it would be willing to take the dispute to international arbitration if the UAE and Iran cannot negotiate the issue diplomatically.

Ahmadinejad’s trip to Abu Musa was the first time a head of state has visited the island since Tehran took control of the island 41 years ago. The UAE has recalled its ambassador from Tehran for consultations and also cancelled a friendly soccer match with Iran’s national team set for last week in response to the visit.

Iranian lawmakers claimed Ahmadinejad’s April 11 trip to Abu Musa was part of a “provincial tour” of Iran, and called the stance of the UAE “a clear interference in Iran’s domestic affairs and thus unacceptable and rejected,” according to a petition announced on Wednesday.

The declaration, signed by 225 of the 290 MPs in the chamber, claimed the ownership of the island is “non-negotiable”. Iran wants to turn the island into a tourism resort.

Iran, then ruled by the Western-backed Shah, gained control of Greater and Lesser Tunbs and Abu Musa in 1971, just before the UAE’s status as a protectorate of the UK ended and the Gulf state became independent. The three islands dominate the approach to the Strait of Hormuz.

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