“In case of any aggression, and if the problem is not resolved through political channels, the military forces are prepared to show Iran’s might to the offender state,” Gen Pourdastan said on Thursday. The argument has exposed how the longstanding mutually suspicious relationship between Shia Muslim-ruled Iran and the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf states has soured still further in the past year.
The main flashpoints are Iran’s nuclear programme and the Shia-led anti-government protests in countries such as Bahrain, which have sparked unproven allegations of Tehran’s involvement.
Gen Pourdastan’s counterattack was made after the UAE’s five fellow Gulf Co-operation Council members, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, rallied this week in support of its protests against the “provocative” visit by Mr Ahmadi-Nejad to the island of Abu Musa near the Strait of Hormuz.
The Gulf states said the trip was “a provocative action and a flagrant violation of the UAE’s sovereignty over its three islands”, which include Greater and Lesser Tunb. They added that it was not in line with the Gulf Co-operation Council’s policy of “maintaining good neighbourly relations with Iran”.
The UAE protested to the Iranian ambassador to Abu Dhabi, withdrew its own ambassador from Tehran and began drumming up wider international support for its stance. The US state department urged Iran to “respond positively to the UAE’s initiative to resolve the issue through direct negotiations, the International Court of Justice or another appropriate international forum”.
The three islands, which Mr Ahmadi-Nejad said would be developed to include a tourist zone, are strategically vital to Iran’s control of the Strait of Hormuz, a waterway through which a fifth of global oil supplies travel.
Iran says it has an undeniable claim to the islands, which it swept up in 1971 as Britain ended its protectorate role in the region, catching the Gulf emirates unawares. It says it gained the right to control Abu Musa through an agreement between the ousted Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran and the ruler of Sharjah, one of the UAE’s seven emirates.
The dispute with the UAE comes at a sensitive time, when Tehran is in talks with the leading world powers to find a solution to the standoff over its nuclear programme.
The UAE and Iran have a complex relationship, in which Dubai has been a hub for trade between the two nations, while Abu Dhabi, the capital city and seat of political power, has taken a strong line against Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. The UAE has been under increasing pressure to comply with US sanctions against Iran’s banking sector.----
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