Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi has said that the construction of artificial islands off the south coasts of the Persian Gulf by the United Arab Emirates could create political tension in the region.
Palm islands in Dubai, UAE
"Any decision about making major changes in the shape of the south coasts (of the Persian Gulf) in order to achieve political, economic and security objectives can have negative repercussions on the ecosystem and political and economic issues," Safavi said in his lecture at the Fourth National Conference of Geopolitics held in Tarbiat Modarres University in Tehran on Monday.
Elsewhere in his speech, the former IRGC chief said the Persian Gulf region will be the scene of major political tensions in the next decades and the source of these tensions are the extra-regional powers which are seeking to achieve their goals in the region.
Competition between Iran and other Persian Gulf states can increase these tensions, he said.
He went on to say that the legal regime of the seabed in the Persian Gulf is not completely established yet and the boundaries between Iran and the United Arab Emirates' waters near the three Iranian Islands of Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa are not clearly delineated.
Safavi, who is also a senior military advisor to the Supreme Leader, said construction of artificial islands in the Persian Gulf will prolong the process of establishing the legal regime of the Persian Gulf and a precise delineation of boundaries.
The man-made islands will also make the current disputes between Iran and the UAE more complicated and can lead to the deterioration of relationships between the regional states, he stated.He also warned that the regional tensions could result in a longer presence of the extra-regional powers in the Persian Gulf and their intervention in the regional countries' affairs.
Pointing to the issue from a legal viewpoint, the general said according to the international law the UAE should have not started the construction of the islands without other coastal states' consent.
"The Emiratis have effectively violated the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea by taking willful actions in construction of artificial islands and it seems that they are seeking to make unfounded claims about the sovereignty over some islands in the Persian Gulf after the expansion of their territorial waters," he noted.
He said that through the construction of these islands the distance between the UAE's territorial lands and Abu Musa will be reduced to less than ten kilometers and the Iranian island will be placed within the UAE's territorial waters, a change that could affect the political and security issues in the future.
12 nautical miles from the territorial sea baseline of a country is called territorial waters in which the coastal state is free to set laws and use resources.
In the future, the UAE may claim that its baseline has changed in order to expand its territorial waters to a close proximity of the Iranian islands in the Persian Gulf and may try and gain the major powers' support to claim the sovereignty of these islands, the general predicted.
On the impacts of the man-made islands on the security of the region, he said that some other countries may also be prompted to build artificial islands and deploy missile and radar systems and military equipment on them, and these plans can unset the security balance in the region.
Elsewhere in his speech, Safavi talked about the environmental impacts of the man-made islands on the marine life in the Persian Gulf.
He explained that the Persian Gulf is the natural habitat for 500 species of fish and some other rare species of plants and animals and these artificial islands will unbalance the ecosystem of the region, endanger the marine life, damage the coral reefs, increase turbidity, and bury and asphyxiate wildlife.
In conclusion, Safavi said that the best approach is that the Islamic Republic of Iran tries to prevent the construction of the artificial islands through diplomacy, consultations with the Persian Gulf states, and taking legal action in the international forums.
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