The head of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards on Thursday made a pointed visit to three islands in the Gulf whose ownership is fiercely disputed by Tehran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Guards commander Mohammad Ali Jafari, accompanied by his naval commander, Ali Fadavi, went to the islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb to deliver a speech stressing that they were Iran’s “strategic and sensitive territory,” the Guards’ official news website said.
Jafari expressed satisfaction with the condition of Iranian combat units stationed on Abu Musa, it said.
He also offered a message of “friendship” to neighboring Arab countries.
The visit was likely to be viewed as incendiary by the UAE, which claims the islands under the terms of a 1971 agreement signed when Britain ended its colonial-era reign over that part of the Gulf.
Saudi Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz has described as “unacceptable” Iran’s attitude towards the three islands which Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member UAE claims it owns, a report said.
“I reiterate the kingdom’s condemnation to the unacceptable attitude of neighboring Iran that continues to ignore the legitimate right of the United Arab Emirates over its three occupied islands,” said Prince Nayef, who is also Saudi Arabia’s interior minister.
But Iran rejects any UAE claim to the islands, saying they have always been part of its territory and that it never renounced its ownership.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad triggered the fury of the UAE and its allied Arab monarchies when he visited the islands in April to reinforce Tehran’s position.
The six-nation GCC called Ahmadinejad’s trip “a flagrant violation of the sovereignty of the UAE over its three islands.”
Iran’s military has vowed to defend the islands. It maintains a permanent military base and airfield on Abu Musa, the largest of the three and the only one to be inhabited.
The islands are at a strategic location in the oil-rich Gulf, permitting control over access to the waterway.
The UAE has won support from the United States in the dispute, with Washington urging Iran to agree to the Emirati demand that the issue be resolved through direct negotiations.
Earlier this month, Internet giant Google sparked a conflict with the Iranians when it dropped the name “Persian Gulf” from the body of water that separates Iran from the Arabian Peninsula.
The waterway also touches Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain – the six members of the GCC which refer to it as the “Arabian Gulf.”
Google also declined to call it “Arabian Gulf,” or even “the Gulf,” saying it would hurt their credibility and creditability.
The company instead decided, perhaps as the biggest landmark on its maps, to leave the 250,000 square kilometers (97, 000 square miles) body of water nameless.