Iran sets up new base near disputed islands

Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards inaugurated a new naval base on Sunday to reinforce Tehran's authority over three Persian Gulf islands also claimed by the neighboring United Arab Emirates, Iranian state TV reported.

The base near the Iranian mainland's southern port of Bandar-e Lengeh some 1,100 kilometers (700 miles) south of Tehran is the Guards' fifth in the Gulf. The Guards' navy chief Gen. Ali Fadavi said missile and marine units have been deployed there.

It lies north of the Iranian-controlled islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb that dominate the approach to the strategic Strait of Hormuz, a key waterway through which about one-fifth of the world's oil supply passes.

The Revolutionary Guard and the U.S. Navy both patrol the narrow waterway, which Iran had threatened to choke off in retaliation for tougher Western sanctions over its suspect nuclear program.

Iran took control of the Persian Gulf islands in 1971, after British forces left the region. Since 1992, the UAE has repeatedly claimed the islands and last month at the U.N. General Assembly, it said Iran's "occupation" violates international law.

In April, a visit by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the islands inflamed the dispute over the territories and prompted an outcry by UAE and its Arab allies. Tehran later vowed to develop the islands through tourism and other industries, though little has been reported on that since the visit. During the inauguration of the base, Guards chief Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari expressed the hope that new base could support economic development of the islands.

Tehran says the islands have been part of states that existed on the Iranian mainland from antiquity until the British occupied them in the early 20th century.

Tehran also maintains that an agreement signed eight years before its 1979 Islamic Revolution between Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and the ruler of one of the UAE's seven emirates, Sharjah, gives it the right to administer Abu Musa and station troops there.

There was no agreement on the other two islands. The UAE insists they belonged to the emirate of Ras al-Khaimah until Iran captured them by force days before the UAE statehood in 1971.

Also Sunday, Iranian newspapers reported that the country has produced a domestically-made drone capable of hovering in midair.

The conservative Resalat said an advanced vertical take-off and landing or VTOL drone will be displayed in February. It quoted Abbas Jam, who is director of the project, as saying that the drone can also fly in silence.

Earlier in October Iran said it obtained images of sensitive Israeli bases taken by a drone that was launched by Lebanon's Hezbollah movement that month and downed by Israel.

Iran says other drones made dozens of apparently undetected flights into Israeli airspace from Lebanon in recent years. Israel has rejected that.

Iran frequently claims breakthroughs in military technology and other achievements. Most are impossible to independently confirm.

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