The outbreak of gunfire on the tiny islands of Greater and Lesser Tombs in the Arabian Gulf on Tuesday (30 November) follows months of jockeying for position by Middle East states as British forces prepare to withdraw from the area.
SV Map showing the Tumbs and Straits of Homuz
AV Ras Al Khamiah (2 shots)
GV & SV Persian troops being trained in bayonet practice (5 shots)
GV & CU Shah being interviewed
TRANSCRIPT: REPORTER (SEQ. 4): Why are these small islands so important to Iran?
SHAH: Because first of all they belong to us, and anyway for us our last defence and the security of navigation there because, for some times to come, our main source of revenue will be the outflow of oil.
REPORTER: Well if the question isn't settled by the end of the year, are you prepared to take the islands by force?
SHAH: It's not a question of being prepared. This is not even discussable.
Initials OS/228 OS/239
Script is copyright Reuters Limited. All rights reserved
Background: The outbreak of gunfire on the tiny islands of Greater and Lesser Tombs in the Arabian Gulf on Tuesday (30 November) follows months of jockeying for position by Middle East states as British forces prepare to withdraw from the area.
Britain, gradually disengaging from the commitments left over from its Empire, has declared it will withdraw its operational forces from the Gulf by the end of this year. British power has been a central factor in the Gulf since Imperial warships secured the vital trade route 150 years ago. But relatively recent oil deposits have brought vast wealth to the area -- as an example of this, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi have the highest per capital incomes in the world.
With the impending change in the power balance, Iran, which controls the Eastern coast of the Gulf, pressed its claims to three tiny but extremely strategic Gulf islands. But the rockey pieces of land were already claimed by two of the "Trucial states" -- independent territories on the southwest coast of the Gulf whose ruling Sheikhs have long been linked to Britain by treaty.
The Arab world recognised the islands as belonging to these states, Iraq in particular looked with deep misgivings on the Iranian claims. The Gulf is Ira's lifeline and is its only access to the sea.
In and accord announced on Monday (29 November) night, Iran will now occupy the island of Abu Musaa with the Emirate of Sharjah. Both sides will now share defence and Government of the island.
But the other two disputed islands, Greater and lesser Tombs, were not claimed by Sharjah, but by another Emirate -- Ras Al Khaimah. And there has been no agreement signed with Ras Al Khaimah by the "Trucial states".
It was on Greater Tomb that the fighting flared when Iranian troops landed on Tuesday.
The new developments in the Gulf leave Ras Al Khaimah in a delicate situation, unless she finds she can get support from more powerful members of the Arab world.