Ahmedinejad's Visit to Abu Musa and Iran’s Policy of Exporting Crisis

Ahmedinejad's Visit to Abu Musa and Iran’s Policy of Exporting Crisis

  • 18 April 2012

The provocative visit of President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the UAE’s island of Abu Musa, which is occupied by Iran, has become an additional factor for rising tension across the Arab Gulf region and the further deepening of the crisis of confidence between Iran and the GCC in general, and the UAE in particular. The visit took place in spite of an agreement between the UAE and Iran to pacify the situation and to desist from issuing statements regarding the islands in order to help build a favorable climate to arrive at a solution through bilateral negotiations. The UAE has fully committed itself to this agreement, as it provisionally refrained from raising the issue at regional and international forums, hoping to reach a peaceful settlement that upholds its historical rights and absolute sovereignty over its three islands (Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb), occupied by Iran since 1971.

It is natural that this visit, which sets a dangerous precedent and constitutes a violation of the UAE’s sovereignty over its territories, drew angry reactions and condemnation, not only from within the UAE but also at both the Gulf and Arab levels. The UAE’s Foreign Minister, His Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan condemned the visit as “provocative and flagrant violation of UAE sovereignty over its territories”. His Highness asserted that the visit will not change the historical facts which prove the legal status of these islands as part of the UAE’s national soil. His Highness Sheikh Abdulla stressed that Iran’s occupation of these islands undermines international security and stability as they are located in a critical strategic region, through which 40 percent of the world’s energy resources pass. He also called upon Iran to “listen to the voice of reason and put an end to the standoff whose repercussions will be difficult to contain either by the UAE or Iran in the future”. Separately, His Highness met with ambassadors representing UN Security Council member states to convey the UAE’s condemnation of the visit, and urged them to support its just stand. The UAE also summoned Iran’s ambassador and handed him a strong letter of protest over Ahmedinejad’s visit. It also recalled its Ambassador to Iran for consultations and sent a letter to the UN Security Council containing signatures of support for the UAE by the GCC members.

Regionally, the visit was widely denounced, as the GCC foreign ministers held an extraordinary meeting in Qatar on 17 April 2012, where they condemned the visit as a provocative act which contradicts good neighborly policies. The GCC foreign ministers called upon Iran to end its occupation of the UAE islands and respond to the UAE’s calls to find a peaceful and just solution through negotiations or by recourse to the International Court of Justice. The GCC members have reemphasized the concept of GCC’s collective and joint security as they stressed in their statement that any transgression of the sovereignty of and any interference in the domestic affairs of any member state is considered a transgression of the sovereignty of, and interference in the domestic affairs of all member states of the Council. The Arab League also condemned the visit. In an official statement by Arab League Secretary General Dr. Nabil Al Arabi stressed that the visit by Iran’s President was an unjustifiable action which undermines and violates efforts to peacefully resolve the issue of Iran’s occupation of the UAE’s three islands. Ambassador Ahmed bin Heli, Deputy Secretary General of the Arab League, viewed the visit as a challenge for all Arabs and not just the UAE. He stressed that the continuing crisis of Iran’s occupation of the UAE islands doesn’t serve Iran’s interests with its neighbors in the region or for regional stability and security.

Internationally, the United States criticized the Iranian President’s visit to the island of Abu Musa, saying that this visit has complicated the situation. The United States also expressed its support for the UAE’s call to peacefully resolve the dispute, a position that has been taken by many countries.

This broad regional and international support of the UAE’s position, clearly confirms that the international community is convinced about the UAE’s stance regarding its ownership of these islands as a just one. This support also indicates the wide appreciation of the UAE’s policy and its civilized approach in managing this crisis. The UAE has always maintained in words and deeds that it is keen to reach a peaceful settlement of the issue in accordance with the rules of international law and the principles of good-neighborly relations, which entails either resolving the issue through direct negotiations or taking recourse to the International Court of Justice, if an amicable solution is unattainable. However, Iran has rejected all the proposals and efforts made to resolve this problem. This Iranian intransigence is confirmation in itself that it is not convinced about the legitimacy and legality of its position. Otherwise, it would have accepted the UAE’s call for a referral of the dispute to the International Court of Justice for adjudication.

In fact, Iran’s provocative behavior toward the UAE is part and parcel of its hostile policies in the region as a whole. These policies have been evident in different forms in recent times. Last year, Iran was accused of being behind the political turmoil in Bahrain, which seriously threatened security in the country and prompted GCC countries to send troops of the Peninsula Shield to help the Bahraini government restore stability and protect vital facilities—a move that was strongly objected to by Iran. In April 2011, Kuwait announced that it had uncovered a spy network working for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, recalled its ambassador to Tehran, and announced the expulsion of an unidentified number of Iranian diplomats who were accused of conspiring against the interests of the country. On 11 October 2011, the US Department of Justice revealed an Iranian attempt to assassinate Adel Al-Jubeir, Saudi Ambassador to the United States. Then in February 2012, Saudi Arabia accused Iran of fomenting riots and unrest in the eastern region in the Kingdom, which has a predominantly Shiite population. In November 2011, Bahrain announced that it had foiled a terrorist cell of five individuals who were coordinating with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to target sensitive installations in Bahrain, including the building of the Interior Ministry, the Saudi Embassy in Manama, and King Fahd Causeway that links the two countries. These examples clearly show that Iran has no intention of engaging in any effort to achieve security and stability in the Arab Gulf, and highlight its false and contradictory policies and stances. Although Iran constantly talks about its efforts to improve relations with neighbouring countries and its desire to establish security and stability in the region, its irresponsible policies and actions prove otherwise, and raise fears and doubts about its true intentions toward its neighbors.

This hostile behavior, which does not serve Iran’s interests in the first place, has been interpreted by many analysts and observers as an attempt by the Iranian regime to employ policy of escape forward, wherein it triggers a new set of crises to divert attention from the real problems faced by it. First, Iran is facing an internal political crisis. In addition to the old internal differences between conservatives and reformers, a tussle is going on among conservatives themselves. The internal struggle between Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently peaked with the announcement by the former that Iran may move from a presidential system to parliamentary system, thereby implicitly threatening President Ahmadinejad of losing his power. The results of the recent Iranian parliamentary elections confirm the declining popularity of Ahmadinejad, as his allies lost a large number of seats to allies of the Supreme Leader. Second, Iran faces a crisis over its nuclear program, which has recently seen negative developments with growing international pressure on the regime for ending this program, especially after last year’s IAEA report that stated that Iran had conducted nuclear research in 2008 and 2009 that included computer-simulation models, which could have only been used to develop nuclear weapons. This has led to increased US and European sanctions, which now includes a ban on the sale of equipment necessary for its energy sector, the prohibition of exports of Iranian oil, and the severing of ties with Iranian banks, including the Central Bank. These sanctions have strongly affected Iranian economy, which is evident in the depreciation of the Iranian currency and slowdown in its economic growth. This has added pressure on the Iranian regime, which has started to gradually lose its popularity. In this context, Ahmadinejad’s visit to the island of Abu Musa can be seen as an attempt to evoke patriotic feelings, restore part of his lost popularity, and divert attention from serious problems facing the country or its traditional allies in the region.

Undoubtedly, the UAE will continue to uphold its right of maintaining its sovereignty over the three islands occupied by Iran. This will not change, no matter how long it takes. The policy of fait accompli pursued by Iran on the islands’ issue and the attempt to change their demographic structure will not alter their historical and legal credentials which prove that the islands are an integral part of the UAE territory. Therefore, Iran should listen to the voice of reason, as called for by His Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and should respond to the UAE’s initiatives aimed at a peaceful and civilized resolution of the problem by stopping its provocative policies and actions that would only promote instability in the region.