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Island Wars: It’s Not Just The South China Sea

A dispute is heating up between Iran and the United Arab Emirates over three small islands in the Strait of Hormuz: Greater and Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa. Last week, the UAE pulled its ambassador out of Tehran. On Tuesday, Gulf Arab officials said that any Iranian military action against the UAE or involving the disputed islands would be viewed as an attack on the entire six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council. Today, Iran’s top army commander threatened military action if the UAE shows any signs of aggression.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Abu Musa last week, the first visit by an Iranian head of state since the island came under Iranian control in 1971. The visit quickly turned the geographic dispute into a diplomatic fracas.

This territorial conflict over ownership of the islands mirrors one halfway across the world, in the South China Sea. The islands, though small, are strategically located at the western edge of the Strait of Hormuz, a transport route for 20 percent of the world’s oil supply. The U.S. Navy and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard patrol the area, which, like the South China Sea, is one of the world’s most vital waterways. American forces and officials play the role of policeman and arbitrator in both disputes.

Despite all the tough words from the UAE and Iran—as well as China and its neighbors over the South China Sea—these tensions are unlikely to escalate into armed conflict, but they’re also worth watching closely. Though tiny and otherwise insignificant, these islands rest in strategic waters. Any conflict over them could easily spread far and wide, and the U.S. would almost certainly be drawn in.

It’s one more reminder, though, that the Arab Lobby wants Iran’s ears pinned back and it would like the United States to do it. Iran has somehow managed to unite a fractious region (save Syria) against it. From Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to Turkey, Israel and Egypt, they are all scared of Iran and want to see its influence reduced. Iran’s nuclear program and its drive for power aren’t just an Israel problem: they are a regional problem and need to be seen as such.

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  • SteveMG

    “….the Arab Lobby wants Iran’s ears pinned back”

    Yes, the evidence for that is everywhere but what about the, for lack of a better phrase, the “Arab street”? The elites of these countries may want Iran knocked down a peg or two but do the populaces?

    How far down does the Persian/Arab enmity go?

  • Lorenz Gude

    Good question Steve MG. I think it safe to say that the problem of trying to get to US to pin Iran’s ears back is that the ‘Arab Street’ is so Anti American that we would quickly find ourself the object of fresh hatred.

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