The islands of Greater and Lesser Tunb are located in the eastern Persian Gulf. Their strategic location to the shipping channels of the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz makes control of these small islands very desirable. Geographically speaking, they are often mentioned in connection with a third island, Abu Musa, which his located to the southwest…
In more recent times, Abu Musa has been developed with the idea of oil exploration and plantations in mind. The soil is better here as is the availability of fresh water. These facts make Abu Musa important geographically even though it is farther from the Strait of Hormuz than the Tunb islands. The history of these islands is long but not very detailed until the modern era. The real reason they are mentioned at all in the histories of various nations surrounding the Persian Gulf is the fact that people have been arguing about their ownership for a very long time. Because Greater and lesser Tunb lie closest to the Persian coast of the Gulf, ownership by Persian and then Iran has always been claimed. The ownership of Abu Musa has been more disputed because by some measurements, it actually lies closer to the Arab shores of the Gulf than it does to the mainland of Iran. Before the arrival of European powers, various tribal chiefs and sultans had claimed all three islands. The arrival of the British changed the dynamics of power in the Persian Gulf region. Both the British and the Russians worked hard to influence the government of Iran. The British sought to keep a balance of power on the northern shore of the Persian Gulf while they established a series of treaties that would hive the dominion over the southern, Arab shores. The emirates of the Arabian Peninsula signed treaties and letters of understanding with the British that essentially turned over mineral exploration and foreign policy decisions to the British. In 1902, the Iranian government agreed to offer as security for loans from Russia, the rights to control customs and taxation houses in Iran. The Russians outsourced this lucrative business to the Dutch. The British were furious over this development because it gave the upper hand to the Russians in the struggle for control of Iran. As a result the British, claiming to act in the interest of the Trucial States on the Arabian coast, forbade the construction of customs houses on Abu Musa and Greater Tunb. This was the first time the British insinuated in any way that the Arab emirates were in control of these islands and that they had the right to forbid the construction of the customs houses (Mehr, 1997). Over the next seventy years, there would be a constant stream of flag raisings and lowerings as various nations claimed Abu Musa, Lesser and Greater Tunb. The British held to their claim that the emirate of Sharjah owned Abu Musa and the emirate of Ras al-Khaimah owned Greater and Lesser Tunb. Iran held steadfast to their claims of ownership based on historical claims. Add to this tension familial claims of ownership that transferred from Iran to various Arab emirates and the exploration for oil by Americans, French and Dutch companies and you get the idea of how chaotic the claims surrounding these islands could be. In December of 1971, the various emirates of the Persian Gulf decided to organize into the United Arab Emirates. This new country, as part of its foundation, laid claims to all of the territory that the individual emirates had before unification. The British withdrew all of their forces upon independence. This included forces they had positioned on Abu Musa, Greater and Lesser Tunb. Just prior to independence, on November 30, 1971, Iranian marines invaded the three islands (Held, 1989). ...
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