Down with monarchism, down with peace (1979-2003): counterbalancing for the advanced - the UAE and the coalition against Iran

Following the revolution, relations deteriorated significantly and persistently, leading to a breakdown of ingroup identification and multiple episodes of provocations, crisis escalation, and militarized altercations. This describes not only Iranian behavior; especially after the crisis in 1992, UAE policy on the islands issue also became increasingly proactive and assertive (Hellyer 2001, 171).

Structural similarities

The Islamic Revolution in 1979 resulted in a new kind of system, completely foreign to the remaining Gulf monarchies. A pan-Islamist driving ideology was added to Iranian expansionism, the linchpin monarch replaced by a two-headed (initially even three-headed22) executive, and foreign policy prerogatives divided among the president and the supreme Spiritual Leader on the top brought about a theocracy that was institutionally and ideologically unlike both monarchies and republics in the region (cf. Ehteshami 2014, 269-271).

System dissimilarity is more than a curiosity, in that it influences perception and behavior toward the other: as Anwar Gargash emphasizes, the nature and foreignness of the inscrutable and idiosyncratic velayet-e faqih system introduced distrust via uncertainty to the relationship. The decision-making process became highly untransparent, and the identification of the actual decision makers became more complicated than in monarchical times. Thus, the Arab Gulf monarchies could not always correctly interpret abrupt changes hi Iranian behavior and accord the benefit of the doubt. An example was a crisis in 1993, when Iranian media sharply attacked Kuwait for its support of the UAE after having talked of a rapprochement in the wake of Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati’s visit there just five months prior (Gar-gash 1996, 157). The implication is that difficulty to identify the prime decision makers and their motivation raises the difficulty to identify with the decision makers.

Further widening the rift was the changing role of oil. While Iran remained dependent on oil income, the new regime attempted to lower its dependence on it and on the West, thereby curtailing capital flows and trade and stifling its economic development (Ehteshami 2014, 267).

Salience: constraints and catalysts to ingroup identification

Iraq, which attacked Iran shortly after the revolution, leading to almost a decade of war, and later attacked Kuwait, was a major threat to both Iran and the UAE. However, as in the previous case of Iraqi-Kuwaiti relations, since Iran was also perceived as a threat by Gulf states, Iraq and Iran alternated in cooperating with the UAE and the other Gulf monarchies. Iran and Iraq remained mutual threats to each other throughout the Ba'thist period in Iraq.

Since the revolution brought radical anti-monarchists to power, the impact of the divisive ideology was strong, especially in the first years after the revolution. While the pan-Islamic ideology did not inherently assume a leader (although the Iranian version naturally favored Iran as a vanguard), it delegitimized other forms of government, especially monarchies. Before Iraq posed the major threat against conservative monarchies (see Chapter 3.2), Iranian opposition was at least just as vitriolic. Khomeini himself had railed persistently against monarchies, which he considered to be incompatible with Islam (Khomeini quoted by Rajaee 2010, 122), "wrong and invalid”, and even an “evil form of government” (Moghadam 2011, 50-51). Pan-Islamic mission was a dual threat, internal and external: it underlined Iranian aggressive intentions and gave support to opposition actors eager to undermine or overthrow the monarchic regimes inside the countries.

Public reaction in the Gulf states was completely opposite to elite reaction and supportive of the revolution (Assiri 1990, 65). There were large demonstrations in the UAE after the fall of the monarchy (Abdullah 1980, 19). This explains the strongly perceived ideational threat that was different from mere power concerns, as described by al Nahyan:

Arab unease was focused less on Iran as a military threat, but instead gave primacy to the potential spread of Iranian revolutionary ideology, its

‘political and ideational leverage’, and these concerns were only intensified yet further when Ayatollah Khomeini announced that Islam was not compatible with monarchy, the prevailing system of government in the region. The pronouncement was accompanied by fiery speeches by Iranian officials denouncing all political systems in the Gulf, and accusing them of being tools of American colonization.

(Al-Nahyan 2013, 88-89)

The cutting of the unifying ties of monarchism led to a greater perceived proximity among the Arab states of the Gulf, with Iraq now sensing an opportunity for inclusion and hegemony over the smaller Arab states. Iran, on the other hand, now had no unifying ties whatsoever except for historical memory, and as Iraq attempted to tie the Arab monarchies closer to itself, Iran enhanced anti-monar-chic and anti-secular propaganda, widening the rift even more. The monarchies reciprocated (Khalaf 1987). Sectarianism also proved divisive but became the main catalyst for inter-Gulf conflict only after the transformation of the regional system set in motion by the Arab Uprisings.

Social processes of ingroup identification

The Arab rulers’ official reactions to the revolutionary turmoil were mixed and recognition not immediately extended. Saudi Arabia affirmed their support for the shah. On November 21, 1978, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal insisted that “the Shah must stay ... his achievements are remarkable”, and King Khalid himself proclaimed in January 1979 that “the Shah’s regime is legitimate and Saudi Arabia supports it” even after he announced his intention to leave (both quotes in: Alkim 1989, 126). Omani and Kuwaiti officials also openly proclaimed their support for the shah. Kuwait had turned down Khomeini at their doorstep (Alkim 1989, 152;Assiri 1990,64).

The UAE eventually supported the “people’s choice”, albeit reluctantly. Because opposition figures during the monarchic era had frequently raised the issue of renegotiating the islands situation, there was some hope of a blessing in disguise, but it was soon crushed because the new regime turned out to be more hostile toward the monarchies than its predecessor was (Gargash 1996, 150). The statements by UAE officials were guarded but concerned amid the turmoil of the revolution and became more favorable only after it had become clear that the new regime was a fait accompli. Despite the grudging acceptance, official relations were not established until 1982 (Alkim 1989, 61, cf. 156).


Regularized personal interaction settled down only by the late 1980s and under heavy criticism, especially inside Iran. Short periods of rapprochements were followed by backtracking and by boycotts and cancelations of joint meetings.

Between September and October 1989, Iranian foreign ministry officials paid at least three visits to the small Gulf monarchies. Iranian hardliners, however, opposed this rapprochement, especially regarding Saudi Arabia, and the daily news outlet Kayhan railed against the "mirage” pursued by the government. Nevertheless, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, elected into presidency in 1989, prevailed, enabling Iran to upgrade relations with Kuwait and Bahrain and starting negotiations with Saudi Arabia to improve their relations by the middle of September 1989, over a decade after the regime change. After the Iraqi invasion in Kuwait, Iranian Foreign Minister Velayati visited the UAE, Oman. Bahrain, Qatar, and Syria and met with the Kuwaiti foreign minister, all the while explicitly proclaiming Iran as a balancing power to Iraq (Ahmadi 2008, 146).

The GCC summit in Doha in December 1990 provided the opportunity for the Gulf states to pay back Rafsanjanis advances, and many GCC representatives called for an inclusion of Iran into a post-liberation Gulf security arrangement, including Sultan Qaboos of Oman, traditionally one of the closest Gulf states to Iran; Shaikh Nasser Mohammed al-Sabah, the minister of state for foreign affairs of Kuwait; and Mubarak al-Khater. the Qatari foreign minister and summit spokesperson. For the first time since the creation of the GCC, its members’ foreign ministers and its secretary-general. Abdallah Bishara, met with Velayati in New York. The closing statement of the summit in Doha included a paragraph on Iran welcoming the recent conciliatory gesntres and emphasizing the mutual intention to solve differences (Ahmadi 2008, 147). Nonetheless, the usual and often exaggerated friendliness and familial references present in such declarations are lacking: except for a minor reference to religious and historical linkage, the text is dry and neutral.23

As expected of a conjunction based on interest convergence rather than a longterm alliance, once the imminent threat posed by expansionary Iraq subsided, the commitment to cooperate between the GCC states and Iran waned and was not followed by the growth of an ingroup. Attempts to relaunch negotiations after the 1992 clashes came to naught, and meetings have been derailed or canceled frequently. Accusations of stalling and hindering resolution were widespread on both sides (Calvert and Alcock 2004,469).

On May 23, 1993, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Shaikh Hamdan bin Zayed al Nahyan met Velayati in Abu Dhabi to discuss the matter and both expressed "their willingness to hold further talks”. A reciprocal visit should have followed on June 6, but on September 10, 1993, Shaikh Hamdan canceled his scheduled visit, blaming Iranian intransigence (Ahmadi 2008, 170; Al-Nahyan 2013, 53-54).

In mid November 1995, Qatar, under the aegis of its minister of foreign affairs. Shaikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabir Al-Thani, attempted to mediate another round of bilateral negotiations. Because the UAE proposed effectively the same agenda as in December 1992, Iran refused, and talks broke down again. Although both parties again reiterated their willingness for further negotiation, the head of the UAE delegation and later ambassador to Iran, Khalifa Shaheen al-Mirri, expressed strong doubts about the Iranian commitment and painted the Iranian behavior as an affront to Qatari efforts (Al-Nahyan 2013, 55-56). The same pattern was repeated in the following years and hardly changed even in the new millennium.

Although the visit by Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi in Abu Dhabi in May 1998 was cordial and both he and the UAE president spoke of reconciliation, no new proposals resulted. A month later, Iran named three naval vessels after the islands, leading the UAE to protest at the United Nations. Kharrazi visited twice more and invited Zayed to the conference of the QIC in Tehran, but no talks ensued (Al-Nahyan 2013, 60-61). In 2007, the first Iranian head of government visited the UAE. A visit by the Iranian president to sign an MoU (unrelated to the islands dispute) in January 2009 was marred but not precluded by mutual recrimination over the UAE decision to fingerprint Iranian visitors to UAE (Al-Nahyan 2013, 100, 67-68).

The 1979 revolution opened a rift between the Arab monarchies and Iran. The victory of the Islamists who had railed against the pro-Western conservative monarchies for years could not bode well. Some lip sendee was paid to the unifying similarities of Islam and common interests, but mostly, relations were cold, even in "friendly” periods. In terms of reference, Iran was demoted from the "friend” in times of the shah to mere "neighbor”, sometimes with the attribute of "friendly relations”. In less-friendly periods, consistent othering became the norm.

Khomeini had derided the religiosity of ruling families in the Gulf who practiced what he termed "American Islam” or “Golden Islam” (Assiri 1990, 65). He dismissed the Gulf rulers as "mini shahs”, equating them with the regime that he had just overthrown (Boghardt 2006, 29) and delegitimized the monarchic system in general, stating that "Islam proclaims monarchy and hereditary succession wrong and invalid” (Khomeini quoted by Rajaee 2010, 122). There was no love lost across the Gulf, and the Arab monarchs denounced Khomeini for advocating "wrong subversive ideologies” (Korany 1984, 252).

Initial signs of a friendly approach toward its smaller neighbors were implicit in Tehran's inclusive pan-Islamic rhetoric and the recall of all territorial ambitions in the Gulf in October 1979, but that policy was soon reversed (Alkim 1989, 61). The new Iranian leadership was split on the issue of the Gulf states question. Some officials affirmed the necessity of good neighborly relations, whereas others railed against their support for imperialist Western powers. That official relations were not established until 1982 serves as an indication of the factional struggles inside the newly formed republic. Pressure from Iran forced the UAE into a "friendly” relationship, and they walked a tightrope between Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran. After the head of Islamic Revolutionary Court Sadegh Khalkali’s state visit to the UAE in mid 1979, alcohol bans and other Islamic-inspired laws were enforced (mostly on a temporary basis) in the UAE.24 In 1980, some Iranian officials proclaimed Iran would not export their revolutions to their societies (Alkim 1989, cf. 156-158,205).

Other officials, including Iranian president Abdul Hasan Bani Sadr, were more critical and confrontational, openly delegitimizing the Gulf monarchies (Alkim 1989, 159). In an interview shortly after the revolution, Bani Sadr affirmed Iran's ownership of the islands and stated that the Arab Gulf states (including Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Oman, Dubai, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia) were not independent states (quoted in: Ahmadi 2008, 126). In June 1979, Foreign Minister Ibrahim

Yazdi denied that Iran would give the islands back, and relations soured amid an extradition request by Iran. The UAE failed to comply, and Iran halted efforts to improve relations (Alkim 1989, 159).

The reemergence of the islands issue took place in the context of the rising influence of the US in the Gulf and the strengthening of the conservative alliance since the Gulf War (cf. Ahmadi 144). Rafsanjani used the Iraqi aggression to normalize relations with the Gulf monarchies and promised a respite from the hostile relationship since the revolution. Even in his period, the relations were based on a shared interest to cooperate, not on similarity or ingroup identification, and therefore did not last. While running for office, he announced a policy "based on the expansion of relations and good neighbourliness” (Ahmadi 2008. 145).

In the communique in Kuwait City in the wake of the liberation on May 5, 1991, mention of Iran is conspicuously lacking and security assistance and agreements are sought with foreign, mostly Western powers, but not Iran. It was the very outcome the Iranian rapprochement sought to prevent by establishing the country as an alternative protector in the Gulf - like in the times of the monarchy (cf. Ahmadi 2008, 148).

This is evidence that common threat alone cannot explain prolonged alliances and is not sufficient to develop a common identity. The attitude of the UAE. but also GCC states in general, is well encompassed in an interview statement by the director of the department of GCC and Gulf state affairs in the UAE Foreign Ministry, Khalifa Shaheen al-Mirri:

We cannot have a regional security arrangement because of Iran. To have [a] reliable security arrangement, the first thing you need is trust. That's why we see the solving of the islands dispute with Iran, as well as boundary problems within the GCC, as a pre-requisite. Since 1991, we [have] detected some intention by Iran to establish itself as the regional power after Iraq's defeat. . . . This is where the gap between Iran and the UAE lies.

(cited in Ahmadi 148)

The difference in the monarchic period is once again striking when the “islands dispute ... as well as boundary problems within the GCC” were no obstacle to an informal regional security arrangement with Iran at the helm. Trust was present then because Iranian actions were perceived to be (mostly) for the good of the group and a bulwark against threats against it, which were generally republican in nature. However, no such identification with the goals and fears of the group could be discerned at that time: any common group that included the GCC states and Iran had disappeared.

The director-general of the Persian Gulf Department of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Hossein Sadeghi, voiced Iranian disappointment and bitterness at this rebuff:

In the meetings at the UN in September 1990, we offered them our help in solving the Crisis and in securing the region, but after Kuwait was freed we saw that they did not want our support. Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the others in the meeting said they would help us reconstruct our economy, but after Kuwait was liberated they forgot.

(cited in Ahmadi 148/149)

Although the Arab monarchies attempted to avoid antagonizing Iran, this was far from a cooperative relationship. The Saudi foreign minister added that the eight Arab states were "keen to develop cordial relations with Iran” and called for a dialogue "with Islamic countries, including Iran” (Ahmadi 2008, 150). Economic rapprochement with Israel also served to focus Gulf states’ fears on Iran and Iraq and oppose Iran for its rejection of the peace process (Ahmadi 2008, 150-151). While Iran at times attempted to include the Arab monarchies by using Islamic references that could apply to them together or fraternal references in terms of a family of Islamic nations, the Gulf monarchies did not reciprocate.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mortaza Sarmadi blamed the Arab side for not taking the olive branch after Iranian withdrawal and proclaimed that Arab residents on Abu Musa could live in harmony with their "Iranian brothers and sisters on the island”25 and excoriated the GCC communiqué as "a blatant violation of the good neighborly relations”. He also outlined the Iranian reaction underlining that Iran “would not allow any country to interfere in its internal affairs or violate its national sovereignty”. In a statement from September 12, 1992, Iran's Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) criticized the recent “unjustified” positions and propaganda campaigns of its neighbors on the islands issue and reiterated Iran’s "fraternity and good-neighborliness” with the Muslim states of the region (cited in: Ahmadi 2008, 172). It denied Iran had any expansionary objectives and attempted to reframe the dispute as a minor border issue by parallelizing it with the ongoing dispute between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, although it failed to achieve that effect (cf. Al-Nahyan 2013, 52). In mid September, Velayati told his Syrian counterpart Farouq al-Sharaa in Tehran that Iran wanted friendly ties with the UAE but would insist on its claims to the islands, while Iraq kept claiming that it was the only regional power able to offer protection against Iranian expansionism (Caldwell 1996, 52).

Following the failed Doha talks. President Zayed used the occasion of the 24th National Day of the UAE to signal the UAE’s commitment and implicitly criticize Iran, in a friendly but cool speech. The careful wording eschews any familial mention:

For our side, we have shown our good will towards Iran on more than one occasion, sufficiently so for them to decide upon their own options, based upon our historic links, our friendly relations, good neighbourliness and common interests.

(cited in: Al-Nahyan 2013, 56-57)

Iranian assertiveness led to hardening of the UAE position that spilled into the larger GCC framework. In the GCC Sununit documents of December 1993 and in a statement by its secretary-general in October 1994, he said that the foundations for the establishment of good relations with Iran "are non-existent because of the issue of the islands” (Ansari 1999, 865).

A fleeting and inconclusive attempt to readopt the old idea of the Gulf Security Pact of the shah by the Khatami government serves as another reminder of the difference between the two periods. During a five-day visit of Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan ibn Abdel Aziz to Tehran, President Khatami proposed the creation of a joint Muslim defense force with Saudi Arabia. In contrast to the long-winded negotiations and presentations in the 1970s, this proposal was dead in the water. Khatami, in an interview to the Arab News on February 22, 1998, optimistically opined that his "visit will be the beginning of a new chapter to expand and strengthen cooperation”. Al Hayat reported Crown Prince Abdallah's remark that "Iran is a dear and friendly country” on May 11, 1999 (Ansari 1999, 871). Notwithstanding, Sultan was dismissive and was quoted by the official Saudi Press Agency as saying that "the question of military cooperation between the two countries is not an easy one and that any cooperation should start with economic, social, and cultural subjects” (Recknagel 1999).

Foreign policy restraint and escalation

Iranian inhibition toward attacking its Arab neighbors has been significantly lowered by the revolution, not only against the UAE - leading to numerous clashes, most notably in 1992.

MID data shows no disputes whatsoever between the monarchy of Iran and any monarchy of the Arabian Peninsula before 1979 but five MIDs between Iran and the UAE (all between 1984 and 1992) and an additional 14 with other Gulf monarchies after the new regime came to power until 2001 - most during the Iran-Iraq War (Ghosn, Palmer, and Bremer 2004). Most reach the hostility level of "use of force”, directly below "war”. Iran's inhibition threshold toward hostile and aggressive actions against the UAE has been significantly lowered since 1979. On November 12, 1980, Iranian aircraft launched the first direct attack on a Kuwaiti border post in Abdali (Assiri 1990, 69). The confrontational stance spilled over to the islands dispute. From 1983 on, Tehran made repeated patrols into the southern part of Abu Musa, administered by Sharjah, in violation of the 1971 MoU (Calvert 468).

Despite the continued power imbalance, even the Arab monarchies contemplated, prepared, and sometimes conducted military action. Saudi Prince Nayef labeled Iran “the terrorist of the Gulf’, and in June 1984. the Saudi Air Force attacked Iran militarily for the first time, by shooting down an Iranian F-4 fighter over Saudi waters (Ulrichsen 2013, 115).

At the beginning of the 1980s, Emirati reaction was mostly low-key and waxed and waned with Iraqi strength and possibility of protection. Although the UAE attempted to avoid aggressively antagonizing Iran, a clear tilt toward Iraq and away from Iran was recognizable, leading to the rising importance of Arabism in the Gulf and ameliorating Saudi-Iraqi relations (Ahmadi 2008, 115-118). A few

From monarchy to republic 199 altercations with Iran strained relations, and Iranian troop movement to the islands to counteract a coup in Sharjah in 1987 temporarily terrified the Gulf states, especially because Iran did not withdraw the troops once Shaikh Sultan was reinstated. This marked the first escalation peak with Iranian forces, lowering the Sharjah flag for a short time after the attempted coup (Al Roken 2001, 195).

The UAE did not react then but was all the swifter during the next Iranian transgression in 1992, which marked the nadir of Iran-UAE relations. The escalation caused a departure from the cautious Emirati approach. The Emirates’ growing linkage to the West and especially the US fed Iranian suspicions, which had already led to a more assertive stance toward the islands issue (Ahmadi 2008, 165). In January 1992. Iranian distrust of UAE policies led it to ask Sharjah for permission to issue security passes to non-UAE nationals visiting from the UAE in January 1992. Iran considered these actions to be well within the agreement on Abu Musa with Shaikh Khalid of Sharjah. The UAE declined, leading to the April confrontations (Ahmadi 2008, 167; Calvert and Alcock 2004, 468).

In March, Iran had refused to negotiate with Abu Dhabi because it claimed that the agreement was made with Sharjah, before the establishment of the UAE (Okruhlik and Conge 1999, 240). Both sides accused each other of demographic engineering. Iran suspected that the UAE attempted to shift the demographic balance by offering large salaries to Arab families to settle on Abu Musa and reacted by refusing entry to certain non-UAE nationals to the southern part of the island in April that year (Calvert and Alcock 2004, 468). In early April, Iranian forces seized control of the rest of the island, including the local school, police station, and desalination plant, and expelled hundreds of the circa 2000 UAE and other nationals of the Abu Musa population. Iran dismissed all protests, insisting that it did not violate any agreements with the UAE or change the status quo, instead dismissing the issue as “US-concocted” (Kostiner 2009, 133). Iran further justified the action by claiming that it was not receiving its proper share of oil and gas revenues from offshore production near the island. Further threat gestures and displays of military power followed. Iranian military exercises were conducted from April 25 until May 4 - involving 45 ships, 150 small boats, air force planes, on about 10.000 square miles of ocean. The exercise was designed to practice closing the Straits of Hormuz to an outside invader.

Initially, the UAE reacted with appeasement. It offered to lease the entire island to Iran and increase the Iranian share of oil and gas revenues. When Iran rejected this offer, the UAE asserted its authority over the two Tunbs and enlisted the assistance of the GCC and the Arab League to negotiate with Iran (Kostiner 2009, 199). In August, the UAE sent the Khatir, a passenger ship with 104 island residents (including the governor that Sharjah appointed, but mostly expatriate workers), to Abu Musa. Tehran felt provoked, refused permission to disembark, and sent the ship back to Sharjah on August 24.1992. This move led to an explosion of international attention in Arab and Western media (Ahmadi 2008,167; Al-Nahyan 2013, 50).

Initial claims that UAE nationals were expulsed or the whole island had been annexed proved unfounded later, but the reaction was severe. In “astriking departure from that of the successive UAE governments of the preceding 20 years”, the Emirati reaction turned strongly critical and non-complacent to the status quo (Ahmadi 2008, 168). Although Iran allowed the governor and 20 other UAE nationals to return on September 3, it still refused entry to the others (Al-Nahyan 2013,50).

The issue was accorded an unprecedentedly high priority: the communiqué issued by the 44th session of the Ministerial Council of the GCC in Jeddah during September 8-9, 1992, ranked the issue as the second-most important on its agenda, after the crisis between Iraq and Kuwait but before the Palestinian question. The UAE raised the issue at regional and international fora, the GCC, the Arab League, and the UN; put forth preconditions for negotiations; and issued ultimatums (Ahmadi 2008, 168-171). In bilateral negotiations, the UAE demanded the end of the occupation and presented a catalogue of demands, but Iran refused, because no agreement could be reached even regarding the agenda, so talks broke down (Calvert and Alcock 2004, 468). The two countries were on the brink of war. On September 21, 1992, Iranian Air Force Commander General Mansur Satari announced on Tehran radio that Iran was prepared to shoot down any aircraft violating its airspace, that his aircrafts were stepping up their watch over the three islands, and that Iris pilots were ready to repulse any intrusion by "mischievous foreigners” (Ahmadi 2008, 173).

From 1992 onward, the UAE followed a policy of protesting against any, even minor, civilian activities by Iran on the three islands (Ahmadi 2008, 143). The Iranians blamed the UAE's insistence to include the Tunbs in the negotiations for their breaking down and accused the GCC states of conspiring with the US while also attempting some conciliatory steps that were mostly ignored by the UAE and other Arab states (Ahmadi 2008, 171; Kostiner 2009, 199). Arab governments and media continued a confrontational policy of admonishing Iran, while it kept insisting that it adhered to the 1971 MoU (Calvert and Alcock 2004, 468).

Possible explanations for Iran's escalation in 1992 abound: it was interpreted as a probe of the Arab states or the US; as an exploitation of the weakness of the Gulf states or a signal of Iranian assertiveness; and as a military or strategic necessity or a result of domestic infighting (cf. Chubin and Tripp 2014, 29). Schofield attributes the “clumsy reactivation” of the issue by Tehran to Iranian frustration at its regional isolation and its exclusion from regional security frameworks after the Gulf War (Schofield 2001,224), whereas Ahmadi points to the new alignment patterns with the West having turned against Iran and the camp of the moderate/con-servative states emboldened to pursue a more assertive foreign policy (2008,174). He nevertheless considered a further escalation by the UAE unlikely, for several reasons, including the federation's economic interdependence with Iran and the disaccord on the issue inside it; the weakness of the UAE vis-à-vis Iran; and the lack of commitment on the part of Arab allies who did not care deeply about the issue except for a period in Saddam's politics (Ahmadi 2008, 177). However, Foley also sees the absence of war as the outcome of a fragile interdependence and short distances, predicting that "This vulnerability in large part explains why the dispute over Abu Musa and the Tunbs has, and likely will remain, largely a war of

From monarchy to republic 201 words” (Foley 1999). Thus, regional and global security constellations precluded a further escalation between the two Gulf states but do not explain the differences between the treatment of the issue before and after the Iranian revolution.

On November 11, 1992, Iran facilitated the reopening of schools in the Arab quarter of Abu Musa and the return of the teachers and their families (Ahmadi 2008, 172), but Iranian isolation was complete by late 1993: the GCC and 21 members of the Arab League, including the usually Iranian-friendly Syria, sided with the UAE, although Syria attempted mediating the dispute through 1993 and 1994 (Caldwell 1996, 52-54). Meanwhile, the status of affairs on the islands itself returned to normal by 1993, leaving only tougher Iranian procedures and patrols and the open question of the security passes as remnants, but the hostility between the two states persisted (Calvert and Alcock 2004, 468).

In October 1994, while Saddam Hussein made threatening military moves toward Kuwait, US intelligence noted Iranian military buildups near Abu Musa and the Tunbs (Caldwell 1996, 52-54). Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal expressed "great concern [for] the continued occupation” and called for a referral of the case to the ICJ, speaking on behalf of the GCC at a UN GA address in October 1994 (UN General Assembly 1994. 16). The UAE kept pressing for a redressing of the issue and called for its submission to the ICJ in November 1994 as a way out of “Iranian intransigence”, but Iran refused (Calvert and Alcock 2004,468). On December 19, Shaikh Hamdan expressed the UAE's concern over the arms buildup on the islands (Al-Nahyan 2013, 54).

The UAE's call was part of its successful strategy of the internationalization and Arabization of the dispute, and the GCC and Arab League became more vociferous on the UAE side (cf. Schofield 2001, 216). While in the 1970s, the UAE was pressured in a confrontational stance, now it attempted to set the agenda itself. From 1992 onward, all GCC summits reiterated support for the UAE and called for the resolving of the issue until at least 2010, and the UAE spoke yearly at the UN, to keep the issue on the agenda (Al-Nahyan 2013, 58-59, 65).

Although immediate tensions abated, the dispute not only remains unresolved but instead continues to be a major source of provocation and conflict. For the most part of post-revolutionary Iran-UAE relations, there was little restraint from escalation, military or non-military. Subversion and delegitimization attempts by both sides undermined the opponent’s regimes, and there was few attempts to minimize the conflict issues. Instead, disagreements often led to rhetorical escalations and threats of violence.

The atmosphere first exploded with the Iraqi military offensive on Iran in September 22, 1980, initiating the Iran-Iraq War. Saddam Hussein’s conditions for a ceasefire included the return of the three Arab islands occupied by the shah in 1971 and “non-interference in the affairs of other states”. Saddam’s political flirtations with the smaller Gulf states included ending his subversion campaign against the monarchies and closing down the information offices of the Gulf opposition groups that had operated out of Baghdad. Iran, for its part, intensified its denunciations of "the stooges of the Great Satan” and renewed calls for the peoples of the Gulf to rise up in defense of "true Islam” (Khalaf 1987).

The Iran-Iraq War showed the profound change in alliance patterns in the Gulf (and in the broader Middle East) that followed the change of regime in Iran. Radical anti-Iranian sentiment grew on the monarchic side. King Khalid declared that Saudi Arabia stood "with Iraq in its pan-Arab battle and its conflict with the Persians, the enemies of the Arab nation’’. Jordan’s King Hussein convened a meeting in Amman that put out a statement calling for Arab cooperation in full support of "fraternal Iraq” (cited in: Goodarzi 2006, 34), a state that he had been in constant strife with since the 1958 coup that killed his cousin King Faisal (Lynch 1998, 347) - a stark contrast to the fraternal relations that he cultivated with the shah, whom he had considered his mentor (Goode 2014, 449). Kuwait was increasingly leaning toward Iraq, but Iran threatened the statelet, to coerce it to remain neutral in the late 1980s. Nevertheless, internal polarization with Shiites tilting toward Iran and fears of destabilization made Saddam seem like a "pragmatist”, and Arab identity then trumped Islamic identity (cf. Assiri 1990, 71, 74).

The rhetoric of the Gulf monarchies has become nearly indistinguishable from the vocal republics like Egypt, but especially Iraq, which threatened to “cut off the criminal hands” that challenged Arab sovereignty territorial integrity in July 1979 (Kostiner 2009, 48) or that railed against the "Persification” of the Arab Gulf (Ahmadi 2008, 126-127, 137). Iran had not suddenly become “more Persian” (in fact, it might even be less explicitly Persian after the revolution); rather, the new perception after the revolution suddenly defined Iran as an "other” in a way that it did not before.

The UAE remained officially silent on the Iran-Iraq War (as did Qatar), because the federation was divided: Abu Dhabi and Ras al-Khaimah were strongly panArabist and pro-Iraq and had loaned the neighbor S1.3 billion by 1981. Sharjah and Dubai, not least due to their trade links with Iran and their large communities of Iranian origin, continued to trade with Iran during the war. Sharjah had the added incentive of the Abu Musa agreement that provided for joint oil access of the Mubarak oilfield. This neutrality initially belied Iraqi efforts to paint the conflict in ethno-sectarian terms (Gargash 1996, 151), but the federation soon tilted toward Iraq (Alkim 1989, 205).

This time, it was the other way around, and the "radicals” (except, of course, Iraq) were wary of war. The distinction between friend and enemy appeared more relevant than any intrinsic belligerence of revolutionary republics: "Qadhafi and Arafat plead to both capitals for an end of the war and Syria was also inclined to side with Iran, but at least put a stop to the war” (Goodarzi 2006, 34).

After Iran had begun its counteroffensive in the Iran-Iraq War, the mood tilted irretrievably. GCC states grew more anxious and openly declared their support for Iraq on the third summit of the Council in Bahrain in November 1982. Because the conservative monarchic frame was not available anymore, the Arab conceptional frame took over, thus excluding Iran. Declarations spoke of “dire consequences ... on the safety and security of the Arab homeland”. Only by November 1985, on the sixth summit of the GCC, did the support declarations for

Iraq subside (Khalaf 1987). All in all, Saudi Arabia, the biggest supporter, sent S25 billion to Iraq. Kuwait followed suit, and Abu Dhabi and Qatar also contributed (Ulrichsen 2013, 115).

The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait has brought along only a short-term rapprochement with Iran. By late 1992, Sharjah and Iran had reaffirmed the 1971 agreement regarding Abu Musa, but Ras al-Khaimah had not reached a settlement with Iran concerning the Tunbs. While the outcome initially resembled the situation in 1971, the handling of the crisis afterwards was now markedly more hostile. In late December, Iran deployed additional Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps troops to the islands. Several media outlets in Iran called for a reassertion of Iran's claim to Bahrain that the shah had abolished to bolster his claim to the three smaller islands (Caldwell 1996, 52-55). Instead of restraint and restriction on the conflict issue, these calls intended to expand it.

The rhetoric had not even reached its boiling point. In December 1992 after a meeting in Abu Dhabi, the GCC called on Iran to "abolish measures taken on Abu Musa island and to terminate the occupation of the Greater and Lesser Tunb islands”. This prompted an infamous vitriolic reaction by Iranian President Rafsanjani, who otherwise continued to downplay the dimension of the dispute: "Iran is surely stronger than the likes of you ... to reach these islands one has to cross a sea of blood.... We consider this claim as totally invalid” (both quoted in: Calvert and Alcock 2004. 468). Whether or not the show of hostility was for domestic consumption (Schofield 2001, 216), the fact remains that no pronouncement by the shah or his officials after UAE's independence ever came close to that level of antagonism.

At the Friday prayers of December 25, two days after the GCC proclamation, Rafsanjani warned the GCC countries to "not repeat the same mistakes as Saddam”, who tried to "transform Iran's Arvand-Roud river into the Shatt al-Arab and Kuwait into an Iraqi province”. He continued stating that "Iran is stronger than you” and accused the GCC states of having chosen “Satan's path” (all quoted in: Ahmadi 2008, 173).

US Acting Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger gave an estimation of the graveness of the situation saying on September 12, 1992: “I don’t think there is any question that the issue could become very serious if the Iranians were to decide to resort to force” (Ahmadi 2008, 174). The mobilization was not merely rhetorical: Iran also increased its military presence on Abu Musa and Greater Tunb, effectively turning the islands into military bases (Kostiner 2009, 199). Even before the 1992 escalation, Iranian activity and subversive policy in the region often undermined Gulf security: the 1981 coup attempt in Bahrain, a series of bombings in Kuwait in early 1980s, the attempted assassination of the Kuwaiti Emir in 1985, and ongoing problems during the hajj were proof enough of Iranian ill-intent for the Arab Gulf states (Gargash 1996, 143).

The founding of the GCC in Abu Dhabi on May 25, 1981. was linked to the heightened threat by Iran and Iraq, but at the time, it was clear where the main danger came from. Abdallah Bishara, the first secretary-general of the GCC, declared Iranian ambitions for hegemony in the region to be the prime threat to Gulf stability (Ulrichsen 2013, 114), reversing the pattern of the monarchic period.

There are even indications that the Gulf monarchies were also ready to support all means available against Iran, including subversion: Anthony Cordesman refers to covert efforts to recover the islands in the wake of an Iraqi attack on Iran and claims that Oman, the UAE, and Bahrain were initially supportive of Iraqi invasion plans (1984, 61, 397). Clearly, the rules against nonviolence were not in place anymore.

The Arabism that served to exclude Iran had a minor influence on Arab monarchies during the rule of the shah but was now adopted enthusiastically. While Iraq again emerged as a prime sponsor of the islands claim, this time the UAE and other small Gulf monarchies took a more active role as well. Especially during the brief period from August 1980 to March 1981, the UAE came forward with some initiatives, in part due to the window of opportunity opened by the revolution and Iraqi ambitions and aggression toward Iran, in part acting on pressure from Iraq. The activities included two letters to the secretary general of the UN. The first UAE actor to bring up the issue publicly was the most aggravated. Shaikh Saqr of Ras al-Kliaimah, who had voiced cautious optimism that the new regime would return the islands in an interview in April 3, 1980. It was followed by a letter to the UN SG in August 8, 1980, by Rashid Abdullah, the UAE minister of state for foreign affairs, who reacted to an Iranian letter to the same address. Another letter reprimanded Iranian president Bani Sadr for his assertion that the shah had paid Emirati shaikhs off in return for their silence on the issue, saying “we believe that such statements are detrimental to the reputation of the Government of the United Arab Emirates and to harmonious brotherly relations between the Arab and Iranian Muslim peoples” and reiterating UAE claims on December 1, 1980 (Ahmadi 2008, 138-140).

More robust action was precluded by intra-Emirate discord: in 1980, Ras al-Khaimah requested that Iraq base a fighter squadron there. But Zayed intervened and sent the planes home so that the UAE would not be drawn directly into the war (Foley 1999). Diplomatic initiatives continued. In January 1981, the UAE minister of state for foreign affairs stated that the Emirates “still have rights to these islands and we are still calling for the return of the Islands”. Saqr continued his fight for the islands. On March 28, 1982, he stated that “The three islands are an Arab right about which there can be no discussion. Iran's rulers know this better than others; however, no contact on this issue has been made between them and us” (cited in: Ahmadi 2008, 140).

Despite multiple rapprochement attempts by both sides, there was no period of durable cooperation patterns, and the polarization following the upheavals after 2011 suggests that this will not change in the foreseeable future. After President Ahmadinejad's visit to Abu Musa in 2012, the UAE withdrew its ambassador to Iran. The UAE foreign minister described the visit as a “flagrant violation” of his country’s sovereignty, and Ahmadinejad used to opportunity to raise the issue of the naming dispute of the “Persian Gulf’ vs. "Arab Gulf’ (CNN Wire Staff 2012).

The GCC and the Arab states at the UN panned the visit as “against good neighborly policy” (Al-Nahyan 2013, 67).

The cooperation between Iran and the Arab Gulf monarchies remained on an ad hoc basis, and even the more immediate threat by Iraq during the Gulf War never resulted in a long-term alliance. Periods of rapprochement were patchy and frequently interrupted. Cooperative periods in the early 1980s and late 1990s were marred by mixed signals and haphazard attempts at settlement. Attempts at minimizing the conflict to a difference of opinion were often followed by provocations and aggressive posturing that could hardly be differentiated from the hostile periods analyzed in the previous section.

Following the revolution, the new authorities turned out to be just as interested in regional ambitions as the shah was but were less circumspect about it. Other territorial claims were soon revived again, such as the claim to Bahrain: instead of the containment and minimizing of the conflict issue, it was broadened. In June 1979. Ayatollah Sadeq Ruhani called for Bahraini annexation and announced in September 1979 that Bahrain was “an integral part of Iran”, using much the same words as the shah did some two decades prior. The claim was strongly rejected by Bahrain and denounced by other Arab states (Ahmadi 2008, 117; Calvert and Alcock 2004, 452). Although Iranian authorities, including Deputy Prime Minister Sadeq Tabataba'i and Iran’s ambassador to Kuwait, were quick to emphasize that the remarks were Rouhani's personal opinion and that Iran harbored no territorial ambitions on Bahrain, the damage was done (Ahmadi 2008, 117). Similarly, in the period of beginning cooperation at the end of the 1990s, heralded by the election of the moderate Mohammad Khatami as president of Iran in 1997. Shaikh Saqr of Ras al-Khaimah was quick to congratulate Khatami on his victory on May 26, but within days, Khatami reiterated that the islands belonged to Iran (Al-Nahyan 2013, 59-60).

The Tripartite committee for mediation set up by the GCC and including Bahrain, Oman, and Saudi Arabia in 1999 was dissolved in January 2001 because of Iranian refusal to cooperate. Bahrain's Foreign Minister Shaikh Mohammed bin Mubarak Al Khalifa’s final statement in regard to the committee was a laconic: “it is finished” (Osman and Farook 2001). Whereas Iran dismissed the committee as biased (Calvert and Alcock 2004, 470), pro-Arab authors such as Al Roken attribute the failings of all negotiation rounds in 1992, 1995, and 1999 to Iranian intransigence, which contrasts with the moderate approach of the UAE (Al Roken 2001, 196).

On the other hand, and like in the previous examined case, the revolution resulted in stronger intra-monarchic relations. It brought Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, closer together: the president of the UAE and the king of Saudi Arabia met more than 16 times between 1979-1983 (Alkim 1989, cf. 130, 235, endnote 173).

While Iraq clearly saw a window of opportunity to bolster its influence on the other Gulf states, and the revolutionary republican regimes used the issue to showcase ideological commitment, this time it was not just the radical and revolutionary regimes but the monarchies as well that began blowing in that horn. In 1980,

Saudi Arabia declared "full support for the UAE in its demand for the recovery of sovereignty over the islands”, which stood in sharp contrast to previous lukewarm proclamations during the Pahlavi era (Alkim 1989, 132).

While the moderate reaction to the seizure in 1971 was openly criticized by republics only, this stronger show of support was now deemed insufficient by the UAE. In May 1999, Shaikh Zayed did not attend a GCC heads of states meeting in Jeddah and in June threatened to leave the GCC unless the other states tied in progress with Iran with a resolution of the dispute. During the monarchic period, the UAE was reluctant to do anything about the islands while it now agitated for more multilateral action. There were disagreements on the handling of the issue between the federal government and the emirate of Sharjah. On the 29th anniversary of the UAE, founding the conflict was an important point of reference, with Shaikh Zayed stating that Iran’s "continued occupation” marred Arab-Iranian relations, which Iran rebuked as baseless. Iran rejected another attempt to put the dispute to the ICJ in December 2000 and its Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson reiterated that "Our position is clear. The Gulf islands are an integral part of Iran's territory. ... It is not a court matter” (Calvert and Alcock 2004, 469). This stands in contrast to the conflict management between Bahrain and Qatar but also between the UAE and the Iranian monarchy under 30 years prior.

Ingroup identification after regime change II

No time period after the Iranian revolution yielded the same extent of cooperation between Iran and the UAE (or Arab Gulf monarchies in general) as the period between the independence of the small Gulf monarchies and the downfall of the shah. While interstate relations did not deteriorate into open war, militarized confrontations increased markedly, and subversion attempts by both sides were common, including tacit and open support of Iraq's invasion of Iran. The clashes on the contested island of Abu Musa 1992 also saw a renewal of territorial claims and an escalating rhetoric, including open military threats voiced by Iran.

Since the Islamic Revolution, the UAE started gravitating more toward Saudi Arabia. Saudi hegemonic ambitions as well as the disparity in size and capability had not changed, but confronted with the choice between a potentially threatening familiar monarchy and an also potentially threatening but in addition strange and dissimilar republic, the choice was clear.

While the basis for ingroup identification was not stable to begin with, given the ethnic and confessional outsider status of Iran, this similarity perception disappeared completely, taking with it any basis for political and military restraint.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >