The largest of these islands, Abu Musa, was owned by Sharjah. The two others, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb, were owned by Ras Al-Khaimah. Both Sharjah and Ras Al-Khaimah, now part of the United Arab Emirates, were ruled by members of the Qassimis tribe.
The UAE has garnered significant diplomatic support in the region in protesting these Iranian actions. It counters that Arabs from the eastern Gulf littoral have always controlled the islands, and that Iran has no claim to either Abu Musa or the Tunbs.
In 1980, the UAE submitted its claim on the island to the United Nations and joined with five other nations Gulf states to form the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
Throughout the rest of the 1980s, the dispute over the island was overshadowed by the Iran-Iraq war, until March 1992, when Iran expelled the foreigners from Abu Musa.
After the UAE brought the issue to the GCC in September of 1992, Iran declared full sovereignty over the three islands.
Neither the UAE or the GCC has contemplated an attack on Abu Musa because Iranian fortification would make it too difficult to invade or to hold the island.
Not only would an invasion fail, but Iran could respond by closing the Strait of Hormuz to all commerce, including the oil trade. In addition, the UAE does not want to disrupt its billion-dollar annual export trade with Iran.
The UAE has urged Iran to agree to taking the dispute to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Iran has responded by stating that its sovereignty over the islands is not negotiable.
The islands dispute has also caused serious friction within the UAE. Abu Dhabi has been careful to maintain some contact with Iran because of the large number of Iranian expatriates in the UAE and because of Iran's proximity.
Ras al-Khaimah and Sharjah advocate tough measures against Iran. Dubai, on the other hand, believes that the conflict is unnecessary, and does not want anything to threaten its profitable trade and close cultural links with Tehran.
Iran is currently Dubai's largest re-export market, accounting for 20-30% of Dubai's trade and providing access to markets in Afghanistan and Central Asia.