Abu Moussa, one of the three Iranian islands in the Persian Gulf

Syrian Support for UAE’s Claim over Iranian Islands, Stirs Backlash

Saturday, 05/18/2024

Syria's signature on the Arab League Summit declaration in Bahrain, which included the UAE's claim over three Iranian islands, has sparked a backlash in Iranian media, with one commentator calling it a "stab in the back."

Iran’s leading ‘reformist’ daily criticized Tehran's ally Syrian President Bashar Assad for signing the declaration, and Iran's leading economic newspaper, Donyaye Eghtesad (World of Economy), said the declaration “disregarded the historical facts that demonstrate Iran's ownership of the three islands."
The Arab League summit statement this week included a clause reaffirming "the sovereignty of the United Arab Emirates over its three islands (Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa)."
The three islands in the Persian Gulf have been in dispute since the British withdrew their armed forces in 1971 from what today is the United Arab Emirates. Iran's Mohammad Reza Shah ordered the Iranian navy to secure all three in November of that year. Iranian forces remain on the islands, with only Abu Musa having much of a civilian population of several thousand.

Influential Iranian commentator and former senior lawmaker Hesmatollah Falahatpisheh wrote on Sunday that he had warned in 2019 about the likelihood of Assad "stabbing Iran in the back."
Although Iran has sent thousands of fighters to Syria during the Syrian war and provided intelligence to keep Assad in power, his latest move suggests he doesn’t share Iran’s sentiment.
After pro-democracy protests erupted in 2011 in Syria, President Bashar Assad turned the tide of civil war with the help of Iranian proxy militias and a significant military intervention by the Russian government in 2015.
Regional powers such as Saudi Arabia took a different approach, supporting rebel groups to overthrow Assad and suspending Syria's membership in the Arab League.
In recent years, Tehran has grown its economic influence in the war-torn country by providing credit lines to Assad's government and trying to win lucrative contracts.
The conflict has claimed the lives of nearly half a million people since March 2011 and displaced half the country's pre-war population. However, many Iranians are highly critical of Tehran's involvement in the Syrian war that has cost nearly $50 billion for Iran, according to some estimates.
Nevertheless, this is not the first time an Iranian ally has taken a position supporting the rival.
China, which Iran counts as an ally, issued a similar joint statement in 2022 during a meeting with the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
The statement contained several clauses that directly dealt with Iranian affairs, its nuclear program, and the issue of three Iranian islands in the Persian Gulf was mentioned as a claim pursued by the UAE.
Iranians reacted strongly to the joint statement as soon as it was reported by the media, accusing the Islamic Republic of being so weak that its ally China was subtly endorsing the UAE claim.
Last December also, media in Tehran strongly criticized Russia for endorsing the UAE claim. The sixth Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum in Morocco concluded with a statement reiterating the UAE’s claim over the islands. Moscow had previously voiced its support for UAE’s claim back in July 2023 during a joint summit between the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Russian Federation.

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