Battle of Greater Tunb was invasion, a quick SOS, and then war

An officer recalls the surprise attack by Iranian forces on the eve of the formation of the United Arab Emirates.

Hasan Al Fuqaee, now 60, was one of the six men to receive the Head of State Merit Award.
Powered by automated translation

RAS AL KHAIMAH // Hasan Al Fuqaee points to the scars on the back of his neck, two inches to the right of his spine, when asked why he received the Head of State Merit Award last month.

"I was a policeman in Tunb," said Mr Al Fuqaee, 60.

Mr Al Fuqaee was one of six officers defending Greater Tunb at the time of a surprise attack by Iranian forces on the eve of the formation of the United Arab Emirates.

"There was a negotiation between them [the governments] but we never expected there would be a war," Mr Al Fuqaee said. "We saw the planes and heard the sounds of the army surrounding us from everywhere, from air, from sea, from land."

Communication to the mainland was cut as police sent a Morse code message to the RAK Ruler, Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed, as the Iranians arrived at dawn. "Then it was war," Mr Al Fuqaee said.

Some residents wanted to surrender immediately.

"We six [police] said: 'No, we will fight for this island'. It's our home, it's our country, it's our land. How can we give it to them?" Mr Al Fuqaee said.

The officers fired from windows as bullets sprayed from helicopters and from soldiers approaching on land. One station wall collapsed after it was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

The six did not know what was happening on the rest of the 10-square-kilometre island. Mr Al Fuqaee said the battle lasted half an hour, although his colleague, Mohammed Ali, said it was no more than 10 minutes.

Mr Al Fuqaee raised his right arm as he described the moment when he stopped fighting. "It wasn't working," he said. "It was shooting until everyone was injured. They took us to Iran as we bled."

Mr Al Fuqaee said the officers are seen as heroes by residents of the island who were forced back to the mainland. "You know there are a lot of people here, their mothers and fathers are from the Tunb and they are waiting to go back," said Alya, 30, his daughter. "It's like a hero story, no?"

"Most have forgotten about them or don't even know about their bravery," said Fatima Al Tamimi, 77, whose husband, Hassan Al Marzouqie, a fisherman on the island, fought back with buckets and sticks that he threw at the Iranian soldiers as they surrounded the family's house.

"He was a hero in my eyes," she said.

Mr Al Fuqaee said the UAE will "wait 100 years" if it must to regain the rights to the islands.

"There is only one problem between the UAE and Iran, only one," he said. "We want these islands to be returned. There was always trade between us and good relationships between the people.

"We hope the international courts will bring it back to us. Why don't they bring their old maps and our old map and see who it belongs to? They are a Muslim country and they know the responsibility of a Muslim is to restore the property to its owner."

Mr Al Marzouqie died 20 years ago, dreaming of going back, his wife said. "The story of the islands and what happened there should never be forgotten," she said.