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Abu Musa Island Dispute

Where is Abu Musa island?

Abu Musa is an island in the Persian Gulf, near the Straits of Hormuz.

It is 68 km south of the Iranian mainland and 64 kilometers east United Arab Emirates(UAE).

The area of island is only 13 sq km but its strategic location has led to dispute between UAE and Iran over its control.


  • Iran’s claims ownership over the islands based on historical sources – from Parthian and Sasanian Empires.
  • By 19th century, the islands were administered by local sheikhs, which later became part of the UAE.
  • Since 1908, the UK controlled the island as it was part of what is today the UAE.
  • In the late 1960s, the UK transferred administration of the island to Sharjah.

The Iranian takeover
After the British forces had withdrawn, the Imperial Iranian Navy took territorial control of these islands on 30 November 1971 –

1. Abu Musa
2. Greater Tunb
3. Lesser Tunb

The Agreement
Iran and Sharjah signed a Memorandum of Understanding over control of the islands .

This agreement left the question of ultimate sovereignty open.

It provided for Iranian jurisdiction in the northern half of the island and Sharjah’s jurisdiction in the southern part.

Both parties agreed to divide the income from petroleum production in waters surrounding Abu Musa. By agreeing to the pact, the tiny emirate prevented an invasion by Iran.

At the UN

  • Four Arab countries—Iraq, Libya, Algeria and Yemen—in 1971 requested the U.N. Security Council to discuss the situation
  • The Council decided to “defer consideration of the matter to a later date, allowing time for thorough third-party efforts to materialize”.
  • The matter has not been taken up by the Council since then.

A fragile peace since 1972

  • The agreement on shared sovereignty worked reasonably well for twenty years.
  • In early 1992, the UAE, with backing from the United States, accused Iran of violating the accord and interfering in Sharjah’s administration of the southern half of Abu Musa.
  • They subsequently worked out an informal arrangement to continue observing the terms of the 1971 agreement.
  • The position of the United Arab Emirates since 1992 has been that Iran should agree to permit the International Court to arbitrate their contending claims to sovereignty over Abu Musa.
  • Iran rejects this position.
  • The issue continues to affect overall bilateral relations negatively between UAE and Iran

Why are the islands important?

  • The islands are located near the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz in a potentially oil-rich area.
  • A third of the world’s sea-borne oil (and 1/4th of total) passes through these waters.

  • Due to the depth of sea, oil tankers and big ships have to pass between Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunbs.
  • Almost all of Iran’s oil exports pass through here. (66%of Iran’s exports is Oil)
  • This makes these islands some of the most strategic points in the Persian Gulf.

International View

  • The GCC and the Arab League have repeatedly asserted that the islands form an integral part of the UAE.
  • USA and Britain have called for the dispute to be resolved through bilateral negotiation, submitting the issue to the ICJ or another form of international arbitration.

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