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Middle East

Iran army ready for action on Gulf island

In this Tuesday, April 17, 2012, image Iran's ground forces commander Gen. Ahmad Reza Pourdastan. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

TEHRAN: Iran’s ground forces commander warned that should diplomacy fail, the military is ready for action over a disputed Gulf island controlled by Iran but also claimed by the United Arab Emirates, state TV reported Thursday.

Gen. Ahmad Reza Pourdastan said Iranian forces are capable of confronting any offender against Iran’s sovereignty over the strategic Abu Musa island in the Persian Gulf. It was the first time an Iranian military commander commented on the issue since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last week visited Abu Musa.

“We do not allow any country to carry out an invasion,” Pourdastan said. “If these disturbances are not solved through diplomacy, the military forces are ready to show the power of Iran to the offender. Iran will strongly defend its right.”

The island dominates the approach to the Strait of Hormuz, a key waterway in the Gulf through which about one-fifth of the world’s oil supply passes. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and U.S. Navy warships patrol the narrow waterway.

Iran took control of tiny Abu Musa and two nearby islands – the Greater and Lesser Tunb – in 1971, after British forces left the region. Tehran maintains that an agreement signed eight years before its 1979 Islamic revolution between the shah and the ruler of one of the UAE’s seven emirates, Sharjah, gives it the right to administer Abu Musa and station troops there.

There was no agreement on the other two islands, but regardless, the UAE insists they belonged to the emirate of Ras al-Khaimah until Iran captured them by force days before the city-states united and declared independence from Britain, also in 1971.

Ahmadinejad’s trip last week, which made him the first Iranian head of state to go to the island, escalated the dispute. The UAE called the visit a “setback” to efforts at finding at peaceful solution to the dispute and Tuesday, Gulf Arab states denounced Ahmadinejad’s visit as a “flagrant violation” and warned Iran that they stand united over the case.

A statement by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council told Iran that any perceived aggression against the UAE is considered an affront to the entire bloc, which includes Iran’s main regional rival Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, Iran’s official news agency IRNA reported Tuesday on plans to turn Abu Musa into a tourist zone. Tehran claims the Gulf islands have been part of states that flourished on the Iranian mainland from antiquity until the early 20th century.

The Emirates has for three decades contested the islands in a low-key manner, but last year it turned to tougher diplomacy, protesting in the United Nations after Iran opened two offices on Abu Musa, the largest of the contested islands.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 20, 2012, on page 9.

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