Iran lashed out at the United Arab Emirates Tuesday over three disputed islands, marking an increasingly heated escalation in a war of words that has been growing between the two countries since the spring.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast threatened to downgrade ties with the UAE over competing claims to the islands, which are located in the Strait of Hormuz and which Iran has controlled since 1971. The Gulf islands, Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb, lie along the approach to the Strait of Hormuz, and are also claimed by the UAE.
The U.N. General Assembly last month declared that Iran was violating international law through its “occupation” of the islands.
Roughly 20 percent of all oil passes through the waterway. Iran has threatened to cut off access to the Strait of Hormuz to hit back at the West over increasingly tougher sanctions.
The territorial dispute reached crisis proportions in April, when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited one of the islands, prompting an emergency meeting by the foreign ministers of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council.
The Sunni GCC states, as well as other Arab nations in the region, have expressed increasingly explicit alarm over Iran's nuclear weapons program. Arab leaders have echoed the concerns of Western analysts to the effect that nuclear weapons will give Iran immunity to take over disputed territory it claims for itself. That territory includes the entire nation of Bahrain.
In July 2010, the UAE's ambassador to the United States publicly made the case that the benefits of bombing Iran's nuclear installations outweighed the costs, and cables emerged later that year indicating that Saudi Arabia had privately urged U.S. officials to strike.