October 21, 2010
DUBAI — The United Arab Emirates has opened a naval base on its east coast as part of efforts to secure its ability to export oil in the event Iran closes the strategic Strait of Hormuz, local media said on Thursday.
Almost all oil exports from OPEC’s fourth-largest producer now go through Gulf waters and the narrow strait which separates the UAE from Iran before reaching the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.
The opening ceremony for the new base, in the emirate of Fujairah on the Arabian Sea, was held on Wednesday.
The base will “provide a quick response to natural and man-made disasters that may occur at sea, in addition to… ensuring safe and quick passage for its oil exports,” the official WAM news agency said.
The emirate of Abu Dhabi, which holds more than 90 percent of UAE crude reserves, is reportedly building a huge oil export facility and an oil storage terminal in Fujairah, and an oil pipeline to it.
Having “a naval base in Fujairah would give the UAE more capabilities to protect its economic zone and its strategic facility, the port down there, which will be a major point of export for oil and gas,” Riad Kahwaji, founder of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai, told AFP.
Kahwaji said that two pipelines from Abu Dhabi to Fujairah — one for oil and another for gas — have been announced.
“There’s an oil pipeline from Abu Dhabi to Fujairah port, and there’s the Dolphin project, which is a gas pipeline between Qatar, Abu Dhabi, then Fujairah and then on to Oman,” he said.
Iran has repeatedly threatened to block navigation through the Strait of Hormuz, through which about 60 percent of the world’s oil supplies pass, if it is ever attacked by the United States or Israel.
Many Western states believe Iran’s nuclear programme may be a covert bid to make a nuclear bomb, a charge Tehran denies. The United States and Israel have not ruled out the possibility of a strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.
“We’ve heard over the news for the past few years the threats directly and indirectly from Iran of closing the Strait of Hormuz if it was attacked,” Kahwaji said.
“Countries like Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain and Iraq… are really blocked in if the Strait of Hormuz is closed,” he said.
“It is natural to see these countries come up with contingency plans that coincide with heightened threat perceptions” so “they would continue to be able to export their products and even import as well,” even if the strait was closed.
The UAE, a federation of seven emirates with Abu Dhabi as its capital, has good relations with Western countries, but also maintains close trade ties with Iran.