Gulf Widens Between Iran and Arab World

February 22, 2010 Updated: October 1, 2015

GULF TENSIONS: Iranian clerics stand in front of an Iranian warship during naval maneuvers in the Persian Gulf on Feb. 21, 2009. (Ebrahim Nourozi/AFP/Getty Images)
GULF TENSIONS: Iranian clerics stand in front of an Iranian warship during naval maneuvers in the Persian Gulf on Feb. 21, 2009. (Ebrahim Nourozi/AFP/Getty Images)
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates—A long-running battle over the name of a stretch of water dividing Iran and the Arabian Peninsula is threatening to escalate into a diplomatic crisis.

Iran has warned that airlines will be banned from flying into its airspace unless the name “Persian Gulf” is used on their in-flight monitors.

The country’s transport minister has said that planes that do not comply will be impounded.

Thousands of operators use Iranian airspace daily, including many Arab airlines. The new rule could threaten to escalate into a full-blown diplomatic row.

The Islamic regime is fighting a war of words with Arab countries over the precise name of the 35 mile-wide stretch of water.

Tehran is insistent that the key waterway be called the Persian Gulf. However, countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, insist on using the name Arabian Gulf.

The row has a long pedigree, but has recently shown signs of growing into a wider dispute.

Last month, the Saudi-based Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation said it had scrapped the Islamic Solidarity Games, which were to be held in Iran in April, because of a dispute over whether the Gulf waterway is Arab or Persian.

In 2006, Iran threatened to boycott the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar, if the name Persian Gulf was used in the marketing material.

"The airlines of the southern Persian Gulf countries flying to Iran are warned to use the term Persian Gulf on their electronic display boards," said Hamid Behbahani, the country’s Road and Transport minister, in comments to a daily Iranian newspaper.

"Otherwise they will be banned from Iranian airspace for a month the first time and upon repetition their aircraft will be grounded in Iran and flight permits to Iran will be revoked," he added.

Behbahani said that airlines had a 15-day grace period in order to change their in-flight monitors.

Recently, a Greek employee of Iranian commercial carrier Kish Air was fired and expelled from the country for using the term Arabian Gulf on a display board.

The airline was also asked to apologize over the incident.

Oil companies working in the region are careful not to offend either Arab or Iran sensibilities and refer to the waterway as simply The Gulf.

The leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, had suggested before he died that the stretch of water be renamed Islamic Gulf—to appease both sides.