Iran is implementing plans to increase the population of the strategic Strait of Hormuz islands, which are also claimed by the United Arab Emirates.
For months, Iranian officials have discussed plans to increase the number of Iranian residents on the islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb, which are at the center of a decades-long dispute with its southern neighbor, the United Arab Emirates.
How will Iran colonize these islands?
For one, Iran may offer 300 square meters (3,230 square feet) of free land to Iranians who are considering moving there.
In addition, the country will provide them with home construction loans as part of the national home ownership program.
The government will also exempt the islands from conditions applicable to the rest of the country, namely that applicants should not use any government housing facilities since the 1979 revolution and must not have other housing to their names.
So now, if applicants commit to living on the island, they can start building homes on it, as well as several other islands in the same waters.
How many people might move to these islands?
In addition to the scheme’s appeal as a residential option with free land, some families may be attracted by a decree passed in early August that allows a male in the family to live on the island if they commit to living on the island for 12 years. Exemption from compulsory military service.
Hossein Dastourizadeh, a senior police officer in the southern province of Hormozgan, told local media earlier this month that the father or one of the sons of families committed to long-term residence on the island would be eligible. Obtain an exemption from military service.
Abu Musa, the largest of the three disputed islands with a total area of about 25 square kilometers (9.6 square miles), is expected to have 520,000 residential sites set aside and allocated to qualified applicants, according to local media reports .
Considering that the average Iranian household size is 3.3 people, the island’s population could grow to a considerable 1.7 million people, much higher than the thousands of people currently living there.
Why are these islands important?
Abu Musa is about 75 kilometers (46 miles) from mainland Iran and, along with other nearby islands, is considered vital to the country’s maritime defenses in the busy Strait of Hormuz, through which oil tankers and warships pass.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iranian forces have a presence on Abu Musa and other islands, but there is no public information on the exact extent.
IRGC Navy Commander Alireza Tangisiri told the media earlier this year that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei personally ordered an increase in the population of the islands to enhance their security.
“Agency leaders say we have to provide a place for people to live, which means we want people to keep the area safe,” he said.
What is the UAE’s claim to these islands?
Earlier this week, Ali Akbar Velayati, the supreme leader’s senior foreign policy adviser, told Al Jazeera that if the UAE persisted in claiming sovereignty over the islands, it would risk “undermining security and stability in the region.”
The three disputed islands have been under Iranian control since 1971, when the country’s then-king sent the Royal Navy there after British troops withdrew.
Emirati leaders have since said they claim the islands and have received support from other Arab countries.
Iran strongly rejects the claim and says it will not enter into any negotiations over its ownership.
In 2022, China and Russia each signed a joint statement with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) challenging Iran’s rights to the islands.
The two countries have also tried to maintain close ties with Tehran, but in response to the statements, Iran took the rare step of summoning envoys to Tehran to express its displeasure.
In August, Iran also conducted a series of military exercises on the islands, using aircraft, missiles, vehicles and troops to demonstrate its willingness to defend its territory.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said at the time it deployed missile defense systems and anti-aircraft weapons to the islands and showed off a new ship equipped with missiles with a range of 600 kilometers (372 miles).
Tangisiri of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said, “The islands of the Persian Gulf are the honor of the great Islamic Iranian nation, and as children of this brave nation, we have the responsibility to defend our honor.”