January 21, 2014 | Quote

UAE-Iran Islands Deal Would Face Major Obstacles

Experts and analysts are expressing skepticism of a reported deal to transfer islands near the Strait of Hormuz from Iran to the United Arab Emirates, stating that such a transfer would face “huge obstacles.”

A high-level UAE government source told Defense News last week that UAE and Iranian officials have engaged in secretive talks since June over the island situation, with the help of the Omani government.

“A deal has been reached and finalized on the Greater and Lesser Tunbs,” the source said. “For now, two of the three islands are to return to the UAE while the final agreement for Abu Musa is being ironed out.

“The fact that the Iranians have used the islands as a way to appeal to the UAE is remarkable,” said David Andrew Weinberg, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington. “There are enormous obstac­les for such a deal to be worked out and the Iranian domestic equation is not the only factor.

“You have to keep in mind what Yousef al-Otaiba [UAE ambassador to Washington] said when he referred to the UAE military for the last 40 years — [they] wake up, dream, breathe, eat, sleep the Iranian threat,” he said.

Weinberg added that any ambitious initiative has to have “at least a yellow light” from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“If he does agree, his intentions [have] to be taken into account, which would be to divide the [Gulf Cooperation Council] by allying with the UAE and Oman over Saudi [Arabia],” he said. “If Tehran is giving the islands back, you better bet that security officials and folks in Abu Dhabi are in good view of the Iranian strategic interests.”

But Weinberg said giving Iran a foothold on the other side of the strait would present a major threat. “The positioning of Iranian assets on the [Ras Musandam] peninsula, which is an important economic gateway, can affect the global community and could be viewed as a global threat.”

However, he said he could see why Khamenei or the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps could regard that as an asset, especially in a tradeoff. “But what would it be? A military base, a commercial presence, a listening post, this would define many things.”

Weinberg said that Oman aligning its economic interests with Iran will be viewed with trepidation by Saudi Arabia and the West.

Karasik said the Iranian-Omani relationship is unique. “If the Omanis hypothetically want [to] give some type of rights to the Iranians like a port or a piece of land, that’s really up to them,” he said.

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