Iran’s President provocative visit to the Island of Abu Musa was an act of folly

The visit of the Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to the Island of Abu Musa in the Gulf, on Wednesday (11 April), must surely be seen as an act of diplomatic folly, which has as expected been robustly condemned by the government of the United Arab Emirates, which considers the island as part of its territory.

Abu Musa is a 12 square kilometer Island with a population of just over two thousand inhabitants which has been administered by Iran since November 1971, when Iranian forces of the then government of the Shah forcefully occupied it and two other smaller Islands, the Greater and Lesser Tunbs. The three Islands had been until then controlled by Britain in its role as protecting power of the Trucial states. The incident took place days before the United Arab Emirates became an independent state. The UAE never recognised Iranian occupation of the islands and has sought to regain them back through diplomatic negotiations. It has offered Iran a resolution based on either bilateral negotiations or through the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Ahmadinejad’s visit is the first by an Iranian leader to the Island, and provoked an immediate response from the UAE, which recalled its Ambassador in Tehran and condemned the visit as a provocative act.

That Iran should choose this particular moment to alienate one of its neighbours that has been willing to maintain a working relationship with its government despite the increasing pressure of the international community is not comprehensible, and will surely add questions on the political judgement of the Iranian President.

UAE newspapers have reflected the anger of the Emirates government to the visit.

The influential Al Ittihad newspaper stated that ”Both the visit of Ahmadinejad to the island and his address there were provocative and constituted a blatant breach of a pledge the Iranian government made about one year ago in which Tehran asked the UAE government to set the stage for negotiations to end occupation of the three UAE islands : Greater and Lesser Tunbs and Abu Mousa. It also pledged not to escalate the dispute and asked the UAE not to condemn Iran’s occupation of the islands in official statements of the GCC and Arab League summits” according to the newspaper. The paper noted that “the UAE had kept its promise out of its conviction that values of cooperation between neighbours must prevail over causes of dispute, in tandem with its peaceful and wise policy that places peace, stability and cooperation with neighbours at top of its priorities.”

The Khaleej Times newspaper said yesterday that “What makes this visit inexplicable is that it comes at a time when the UAE and Iran have been establishing a platform of understanding on several fronts. If Mr Ahmadinejad was testing some sort of waters for the depth of the UAE’s resolve not only is it a bizarre exercise but also one that was not destined to work” the paper warned.”What is disappointing is that it puts back all the initiatives of recent months to create a higher level of harmony and accord between Iran and its neighbours in the region”, lamented the paper.

The visit has also been condemned throughout the Arab World, with statements issued by the Gulf Co-operation Council, the Arab League and various Arab states.

There are long historical, cultural and commercial links between Iran and the UAE and the government of the Emirates has been one of the few to keep lines of communication open with Tehran at a time when it is under increasing pressure. The visit to Abu Musa alienates not only the UAE government but also public opinion in the Emirates, which up to now had been understanding, even if not sympathetic, to the Iranian confrontation with the international community. The visit increases tension in  the Gulf region at a time when dialogue and confidence building should be the order of the day.

The visit of Ahmadinejad therefore must be seen as a simple act of bravado by a leader who often uses flamboyant gestures when statesmanship is required.

source: LINKS Analysis