Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 31 March 2020

What rising US-Iran tensions mean for residents of the UAE

Outlandish claims in the British tabloid press - including that Iran has threatened to 'bomb Dubai' - should not be taken at face value

Since the killing of the Iranian commander Qassem Suleimani in a US air strike in Baghdad last Friday, tensions rose as the world waited for Iran’s response.

On Tuesday night, Tehran fired more than a dozen missiles at two bases where US forces are stationed in, at Erbil in northern Iraq and Ain Al Asad airbase, west of Baghdad. The situation regarding Iraqi casualties is unclear but it appears no US personnel were injured.

Neither US President Donald Trump nor Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, made a threat of further action in their initial responses on Twitter.

Mr Trump declared “all is well” and Mr Zarif wrote: “We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.”

The situation is still developing, leaving many UAE residents, particularly US citizens, wondering if they will be affected. In short, no.

What are officials saying about risk levels in the UAE?

Many embassies have issued updates to their travel advice, which is standard practice whenever there is an outbreak of violence in the region. Contrary to some headlines in foreign media, residents have not been urged to leave the country by credible sources and tourists have not been told to stay away.

Dubai Media Office said on Wednesday rumours about a security threat targeting Dubai are fake and were not issued from any official source in the Iranian government.

"We urge everyone to refrain from circulating fake news and spreading rumors," the office said.

A spokeswoman for the US embassy in the UAE told The National "the US security posture in the UAE has not changed”.

Recent developments will not affect citizens, residents, or visitors to the UAE

UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Official travel advice issued by the US state department urges its citizens to “maintain a high level of vigilance and practice good situational awareness”.

The UK’s foreign office has also urged its citizens to be on alert, but there have been no warnings to leave the country or cancel holidays. Again, this is standard practice.

The UK foreign office official advice states: “Following the death of Iranian General Qassem Suleimani in a US strike in Baghdad on 3 January, the incident has led to increased tensions in the region. There is a possibility of an increased threat against western interests and the security situation could worsen with little warning. You should remain vigilant and keep up to date with the latest developments.”

The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs said "recent developments will not affect citizens, residents, or visitors to the UAE".

"All sectors across the country continue to operate as normal," state news agency Wam quoted it as saying.

So where have the headlines come from?

Particularly in the UK media, there have been a series of sensational headlines in recent days regarding the situation in the UAE. However, these should not be fully trusted.

This morning, MailOnline published a story under the headline "Iran 'threatens to hit Israel and Dubai if the US retaliates over missile attack’".

The first paragraph of the story states: “Iran has threatened to bomb Israel and Dubai if the United States retaliates for its ballistic missile strike at two Iraqi bases housing US troops.”

The story cites a quote from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, reported by Iran’s state-run Irna news agency, which did not specifically mention Dubai or Israel.

Instead, it said: “We are warning all American allies, who gave their bases to its terrorist army, that any territory that is the starting point of aggressive acts against Iran will be targeted.”

The UAE and Israel are allies of the US but this is true for several countries in the region, and there is nothing from the IRGC statement to back up the suggestion that Dubai has been singled out as a target.

The MailOnline story went on to say "another television channel of the Guard also threatened to bomb Dubai and Haifa in Israel".

Further details, such as the channel or the person making the threat, were not provided.

Other news outlets reported that Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps had issued a threat mentioning Dubai on its Telegram channel.

Earlier, a series of articles in the UK media suggested westerners had been urged to leave the UAE.

The source for this was Professor Mohammad Marandi, an academic and analyst in Tehran, who told the BBC: "If I was a western citizen I would leave the United Arab Emirates immediately.”

Prof Marandi, an expert in English literature and Orientalism, regularly expresses a pro-Tehran line when he appears as a pundit on TV, including Iran’s state-backed propaganda channel Press TV.

While most of the over-the-top coverage has appeared in the UK tabloid press and websites, which are known for often stretching the truth in pursuit of headlines and clicks online, more reputable outlets have also published incorrect claims.

The New York Times ran an opinion piece from Susan Rice, a US national security adviser during Barack Obama’s presidency, which originally stated the US had advised its citizens to leave the UAE, as well as Pakistan and Bahrain.

The newspaper published a correction stating this had been incorrect, with the advice only applying to Iraq.

What is the bottom line?

There is no doubt the killing of Suleimani has heightened tension in the region and increased the chances of an open conflict between the US and Iran.

Given Iran’s proximity to several Arab countries, it is easy to understand why embassies have updated their travel advice and warned their citizens to be vigilant.

However, they have not warned residents to leave or stay away from the UAE or any country other than Iraq, merely to be on alert and keep up to date with any developments.

So if you see an outlandish claim in the media, and particularly the UK tabloid press, it is probably best to take it with a pinch of salt and check with official sources.

Updated: January 9, 2020 07:04 PM

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