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Islands Dispute Between Iran and Uae Research Paper

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Updated: Dec 19th, 2021


The recent crisis between Iran and the UAE originated from ancient times when the two countries failed to reach a consensus on the ownership of three islands namely; Abu Musa, Greater Tunb, and Lesser Tunb. During the 20th century, the relationship between the two countries was delicate; in old days, Britain used to act as the protector but since she left, the issues of the dispute have worsened. The magnitude of the conflicts continues to increase every single day, especially due to the increased value of the islands with the discovery of oil fields. Both Iran and UAE now lay claim to the islands to enjoy the ensuing economic benefits. Tones of oil are mined from the three islands with many tankers passing by the gulf to get oil. The area has become a major export site since it has attracted more commercial goods even as rivalry between Iran and the UAE has been on the rise. The magnitude of the disputes intensified in 1992 when Iran refused to allow Arab citizens without Iranian visas to the country. Conflicts between Iran and UAE adversely affect the two states especially when they employ the use of force in their negotiations; the two states need to resolve the conflicts face to face. This would help in the reduction of destructions and loss of life experienced in each state as a result of the unresolved conflicts (Katz, 2008, pp. 27). The essay seeks to explore the islands dispute between Iran and UAE, its historical backgrounds, and its current status.

Historical background

For a long time now, Iran and the UAE have been in conflict over three islands namely, Abu Musa, Tunb and, Lesser Tunb. The rivalry is as old as the history of the two countries, and it has been traced as far back as the 16th century. In 1925, Reza Shah started to build his naval capacity to challenge the dominance of the British in the Persian Gulf area. Within two years, the naval capacity of Iran was so immense that it was already intimidating a majority of the other countries in the Gulf Islands. Iran and British got into negotiations about the ownership of Abu Musa, Tunb, and Lesser Tunb islands for ten years without any success is from 1929 to 1939. These negotiations were suspended once World War II broke up and the ownership of the islands remained unchanged. Negotiations to determine the sovereignty were initiated but shah was reluctant to let United Nations in the negotiation. By 1970 Shah was persuaded by Saudi Arabian to allow United Nations to decide the sovereignty of the islands and he eventually agreed. A referendum was conducted and the people of Bahrain choose to become independent rather than being part of Iran. Shah agreed with the results and a conference was set in order to transfer power from British to ancient Arab leaders of the sheikhdoms. However, in 1971 Reza Shah attacked the three islands even before the conference began; he was determined not to come out empty-handed following the British withdrawal (Saeed, 1993, pp. 18).

Out of the three islands, Abu Musa is the largest, it was owned by Sharjah, both greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb belonged to Ras Al-Khaymah. Initially, Both Ras Al –Khaymah and Sharjah, now in the UAE, were previously a part of what is known as the Qawasim tribe. The tribe has historical significance because, at one time, it ruled over Persia. This formed the basis under which Shah argued that Qawasim islands were owned by Iran. Actually in 1881 and 1904 British had rejected Persian efforts to settle these in these highlands. Iran was able to accomplish its mission of getting the islands because of its strong security forces which included air force, naval and army troops. Iranian encountered no military attack on the islands hence it was easy for them to have the islands under their possession. In fact, Sharjah leaders signed an accord with Iran the same day following the seizure of their security force from the island. The main terms of the accord included allowing the Sharjah flag to remain flying on the island, on the government buildings, and in police stations. It also provided that all Arab inhabitants of Sharjah residing in the island would remain under the governance of Sharjah. Iran naval and air forces were supposed to be stationed on agreed positions on the island and Sharjah would get 1.5 million pounds per annum as part of financial aid from Iranians. The relationship between Iranians and other Arab states was highly destabilized by the disputes on the ownership of the islands. The dispute also promoted armed conflicts among Saudi, Iraq, Iran, and Arabia. Before the British left Gulf in 1971, they had suggested that all Gulf lower sheikdoms reunite in order to form a single country which they considered to be more viable. Though this was against Iranian will, they were left with no choice but to recognize the newly formed country UAE (Saeed, 1993, pp. 22).

Current concerns

Iran made assertions of the islands however, they lacked any legal support and their claims were also contradicted by the conduct of their government. For instance, the offer made by the government to buy the islands through the British government from Ras al- Khaimah in 1929 betrayed their claim that the islands were part of their territory. This offer was rejected, Iranian government deserved the application of international laws. On several occasions using formal documents, the British government affirmed that it recognized the right of Ras al- Khaimah to exercise ownership over the islands. Iranian claims were strongly opposed by the British government and cautioned them against questioning the ownership of the islands. An attempt by UAE to claim the three islands back has been in vain, Iranians feel that the three islands are part of Iranian land which is considered to be indisputable by Iranians. Iranians argue that it is only misinterpretation between Iran and UAE that causes the conflicts otherwise the three highlands are under the territory of Iran. As an attempt to support Iranian ownership of the islands, Iranians claim that historically the islands belonged to them and were given back to them legally by the United Arab Emirates in 1971. Despite the proof, UAE continues to claim territorial ownership of the three islands, Iranians feel that UAE needs to be more understanding and face the facts (Rugh, 2006, pp.38).

The three islands are situated in the Gulf between UAE and Iran along 35 miles beginning of the Strait of Hormuz. The tension between Iran and UAE intensified when UAE received support from some Arab nations. Since then Iran has declined to engage in definitive discussion with the UAE which includes having the case being referred to the International Court of Justice. UAE is offended by the fact that Iranians term the issue of territorial disagreement as a misunderstanding, UAE feels that the credibility of their government is being undermined. Tones of oil are mined from the three islands, many tankers pass by the gulf to get oil. This has converted the area to a major export site by attracting more commercial goods (Shane, 2010, pp.2)


Abu Musa, Greater Tunb, and Lesser Tunb are the three islands in the Persian Gulf being disputed by Iran and UAE because they cannot reach a consensus regarding their ownership. Their economic value is one of the major reasons why these islands are strongly claimed by the two countries. The rivalry has been in existence for a long time and it has not been resolved so far. Iran argues that the islands historically belonged to them and that they were legally returned by UAE; however, these claims lack legal support. The conflict between the two countries affects the economic development of both countries especially when they use forces in dispute resolution. Properties are destroyed and lives are lost, face to face dialogue between the two parties is considered as a better approach to resolve the dispute. However, Iran term the issue as a misunderstanding, and UAE is offended because the idea compromises the credibility of its government.

Reference List

Katz, J. (2008) Iran–UAE Island Dispute Highlights Shaky Relationship. Web.

Recknagel, C. & Samii, W. (2004) . Web.

Rugh, William A (2006) The Three Occupied UAE Islands: The Tunbs and Abu Musa. Web.

Saeed M. B. (1993).. Web.

Shane, M. (2010) Iran rejects UAE’s claims to 3 disputed islands. Web.

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