The Sunni Arab regimes of the Persian Gulf have engaged in military exercises this week while drawing attention to disputed Iranian islands in the Strait of Hormuz in an attempt to ratchet up pressure on the Shiite Islamic Republic.
The exercises, carried out by the Peninsula Shield Force of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), are titled “Islands of Loyalty,” in reference to the Abu Musa and Tunb islets, which Iran has had sovereignty over for 40 years, but which the United Arab Emirates claims is their rightful territory.
The territorial issue of the islands has been dormant since Iran took control of them in 1971, when British forces withdrew. The UAE, backed by the GCC military, are only now making noise about them as a pretext for an international effort against Iran at an opportune time on the heels of high-level talks over Iran’s nuclear program.
The Gulf states are heavily backed by the West and particularly the United States. Not only are they as adamant as the U.S. and Israel that Iran’s nuclear program be neutered and that Iran be prevented from gaining any more regional influence, but they are in the midst of instability as Shiite Arab Spring protesters challenge their rule. They fear Shiite Iran, allied with Shiite Iraq, is gaining ground.
“While analysts do not believe that the Gulf countries would go as far as to risk outright war with Iran,” writes Anshel Pfeffer for Haaretz, “it would be useful to remember that not for nothing have the two main Sunni Gulf states, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, built up huge air forces fielding hundreds of front-line American, British and French fighter jets (U.S. General Petraeus said a couple of years ago that ‘the Emirati Air Force itself could take out the entire Iranian Air Force’).”
“And if that’s not enough,” Pfeffer continues, “the United States seems to have found the best timing to station a squadron of F-22s, the most advanced warplane in the world, at Al-Dhafra airbase in the UAE, joining the spy planes and aerial tankers of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing already based there, just across the Gulf.”
These actions illustrate the geopolitical forces at work when the U.S. and its Sunni Arab clients construct policies antagonistic toward Iran, as opposed to the pretexts like tiny islets and a non-existent nuclear weapons program.