Territorial disputes: The Persian Gulf (Part 4) [Post 164]

Persian Gulf or Arabian Gulf

Countries with a coastline on the Persian Gulf are (clockwise, from the north): Iran, Oman (exclave of Musandam), United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar on a peninsula off the Saudi coast, Bahrain on an island, Kuwait and Iraq in the northwest.Various small islands lie within the Persian Gulf, some of which are the subject of territorial disputes between the states of the region.

Persian Gulf is home to many small islands. Bahrain an island in the Persian Gulf, is itself a Persian Gulf Arab state. Geographically the biggest island in the Persian Gulf is Qeshm island located in the Strait of Hormuz and belonging to Iran. Other significant islands in the Persian Gulf include Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Kish administered by Iran, Bubiyan administered by Kuwait, Tarout administered by Saudi Arabia, and Dalma administered by UAE. In recent years, there has also been addition of artificial islands, often created by Arab states such as UAE for commercial reasons or as tourist resorts.

Persian Gulf or Arabian Gulf?

Ask anyone in Tehran to name the sea that divides Iran from the Arabian Peninsula and the answer will emphatically come back as the Persian Gulf. Ask the same question in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, and the answer is the Arabian Gulf. Iran has even threatened legal action in the past to defend its name for the 100-mile-wide body of water. 

To keep both sides happy, Google has literally circumnavigated the problem by calling the sea both names, with Arabian Gulf written in parentheses under Persian Gulf in its omnipotent online mapping service.

The body of water in question has been known – in maps, literature and official usage – as the Persian Gulf for more than two millenia. Even after the emergence of Islam, the Arab world knew it as the “Bahr Fars”, the Persian Sea.The tide of Arab opinion on the question shifted only in the 1960s ironically among the major drivers of the movement for change were Arab perceptions that Iran, driven by Washington, had supported Israel during the Arab-Israeli war of 1973.

The region has historically been known as the Persian Gulf, named after the Persian Empire (present-day Iran). Since the 1960s, rivalry between Persians and Arabs, along with the growth of Arab nationalism and evolving Western political and economic interests, has prompted an increasing use of the term “Arabian Gulf” when referring to the region’s body of water.

Persian Gulf – Arabian Gulf Link to the complete article
Persian Gulf or Arabian Gulf? (AlJazeera) Link to the complete article
About the Persian/Arabian Gulf Link to the complete article
Iran and Saudi Arabia can’t agree on the name of the Gulf sea (The Telegraph) Link to the complete article


This post is based on Jorge Emilio Núñez, Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty. International Law and Politics (Routledge 2020).Previous published research monograph about territorial disputes and sovereignty by the author, Jorge Emilio Núñez, Sovereignty Conflicts and International Law and Politics: A Distributive Justice Issue London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2017.


The Persian Gulf and Colonialism: Where Territorial Disputes Start.

Thursday 26th November 2020

Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez

Twitter: @DrJorge_World


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