The Greater and Lesser Tunbs are two small islands in the Persian (Arabian) Gulf close to the Strait of Hormuz. Greater Tunb, 17 miles (27 km) southwest of the large Iranian island of Qeshm, has a total area of about 3 square miles (7.5 sq. km). There are no permanent freshwater sources on the island and historically no permanent settlements, although it was occupied seasonally. Lesser Tunb, about 5 miles (8 km) east of Greater Tunb, is less than 2 square miles (5 sq. km) in area and has no fresh water or inhabitants.
Historical evidence for the ownership of the Tunbs prior to the mid-nineteenth century is sketchy, but by the mid-1880s, both Iran and the shaykhdom of Raʾs al-Khayma were claiming sovereignty over the islands. Raʾs al-Khayma was a British protectorate, and in 1904 Britain sided with its dependency by expelling the Iranian customs officers from Greater Tunb. Iran protested the action and periodically asserted its claim to the Tunbs, most notably in 1968 after Britain announced that it would recognize the full independence of its Persian Gulf protectorates. Britain mediated an agreement for shared sovereignty over the nearby island of Abu Musa, but the ruler of Raʾs al-Khayma declined to accept such an arrangement for the Tunbs. Consequently, one day before the British treaty of protection with Raʾs al-Khayma was due to expire, Iran forcibly occupied the Tunbs (30 November 1971); Britain took no action. After the shaykhdom joined the new United Arab Emirates (UAE), the dispute with Iran remained dormant for twenty years. The UAE raised the issue of Iran's occupation in 1992, in conjunction with the dispute over Abu Musa. Since then, the Tunbs have been a source of contention between Iran and the UAE.
Mirfendereski, Guive. "The Ownership of the Tonb Islands: A Legal Analysis." In Small Islands, Big Politics: the Tonbs and Abu Musa in the Persian Gulf, edited by Hooshang Amirahamdi. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.
malcolm c. peck
updated by eric hooglund