The GCC’s Peninsula Shield joint defense force held two days of joint military exercises in the UAE. The drills, dubbed "Islands of Loyalty," come amid escalating tensions between the United Arab Emirates and Iran over three islands occupied by Iran.
Earlier, the diplomatic rhetoric between the UAE and Iran intensified, after the Iranian president visited the island of Abu Musa. The UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs announced that the UAE would no longer remain passive on the issue of the islands, saying that the UAE "were mulling all possible options before us in this respect.” He did however, emphasize that the UAE’s new strategy would be peaceful, focusing on “patience, peaceful diplomacy and international law”.
The intensification of rhetoric included announcements by Iranian military officials on the UAE “against careless remarks and positions on the ownership of the three islands“, adding that “in case a war breaks out, the UAE will sustain serious damages”.
GCC and Arab and many Western nations have condemned the Iranian president’s visit and expressed support for the UAE.
April 16-29, 2012
Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk
The three islands hold a key strategic position in the Straits of Hormuz, through which almost 40 percent of the world oil supplies pass through. They have been occupied by Iran since the UAE’s independence and the UAE have continuously called a solution to the dispute with Iran.
The visit of Ahmadinejad to one of the islands is mainly seen as a direct warning to the West and Israel, that should Iran by attacked, the Iranians would be in a position to close off the straits. The result was that the visit has especially angered Arab and Western states, particularly the UAE, which saw in the visit a serious provocation. The subsequent escalation of rhetoric, whilst not unusual, is one of the most strong in its intensity. Furthermore, the military drills in the UAE are the first time since the end of the first Gulf War that the GCC send a strong military signal to Iran.
Whilst the risk of an imminent military confrontation is limited, continuous escalations increase the risk of such confrontation in the future, risking the closure of the straits and possible outside military intervention.