- Saudi Arabia claims “sabotage attacks” left two of its oil tankers damaged off the coast of the UAE, not far from the vital Strait of Hormuz shipping channel.
- Nobody is casting blame yet, but it comes just days after the U.S. warned that “Iran or its proxies” could target commercial vessels in the region.
- Britain says the incident highlights the danger of “a conflict happening by accident” between the U.S. and Iran.
- Mike Pompeo is expected to meet European leaders as they try to keep the nuclear deal viable months after President Trump abandoned it.
Saudi Arabia said Monday two of its oil tankers were sabotaged off the
coast of the United Arab Emirates in attacks that caused “significant
damage” to the vessels. One of the ships was en route to pick up Saudi
oil to take to the United States, a Saudi government minister said.
The announcement by the kingdom’s energy minister, Khalid al-Falih, came
on the heels of a new warning to sailors in the region from the U.S.
While no blame was cast at Iran or
any other nation for the alleged attack on the ships, it fuelled fears
that a miscommunication or small act of antagonism in the politically
charged region could quickly escalate into a full conflict.
Late last week the U.S. Maritime Administration warned commercial shipping companies that from the beginning of May there had been, “an increased possibility that Iran and/or its regional proxies could take action against U.S. and partner interests, including oil production infrastructure, after recently threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz. Iran or its proxies could respond by targeting commercial vessels, including oil tankers, or U.S. military vessels in the Red Sea, Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, or the Persian Gulf.”
Emirati officials have declined to elaborate on the nature of the sabotage or say who might have been responsible.
A total of four tankers sustained some damage on Sunday, according to UAE officials. One of the others was Norwegian owned, but officials in that country did not immediately confirm any links to the apparent attacks on the Saudi-flagged vessels.
Shortly after the Saudi announcement, Iran’s Foreign Ministry called for further clarification about what exactly happened with the Saudi tankers. The ministry’ spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying there should be more information about the incident. Mousavi also warned against any “conspiracy orchestrated by ill-wishers” and “adventurism by foreigners” to undermine the maritime region’s stability and security.
An Iranian lawmaker suggested in the country’s parliament on Monday that the attacks on the Saudi ships could have been carried out by unspecified “saboteurs” from an also unspecified third country.
Even without any actual accusation that Iran or its “proxies” were behind the purported attack on the Saudi tankers, the incident clearly demonstrated how high tensions are in the region, and some other countries were quick to express their concern. Britain’s Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt warned of the risks of an “accident” sparking a conflict between the United States and Iran. “We are very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident with an escalation that is unintended,” Hunt said in Brussels, where U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was expected to pay a hastily-arranged visit on Monday to discuss the Iran standoff with European counterparts.
Underlying the regional risk, the general-secretary of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council described the alleged sabotage as a “serious escalation” in an overnight statement.
“Such irresponsible acts will increase tension and conflicts in the region and expose its peoples to great danger,” Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani said. Bahrain, Egypt and Yemen’s internationally recognized government similarly condemned the alleged sabotage.