Tensions between Iran and other Arab states and the US are intensifying following attacks on an oil tanker in the Gulf. (Photo: Bloomberg)
The US political and military standoff with Iran hardened as conflicting narratives about a pair of attacks on tankers near the Persian Gulf stoked regional tensions and raised the risk of a miscalculation.
While both sides have said they’re not looking for war, events have taken on a momentum of their own with US and Iranian forces bolstering their military presence. Even so, investors took the risk in their stride. Brent oil futures in London traded slightly lower on Friday at $61.15 a barrel, set for a weekly declined as concern about faltering demand outweighed those of Middle East tensions.
In a press statement on Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ran through a list of recent incidents the US has pinned on Iran, from previous tanker blasts to missiles fired at a Saudi airport to a car bomb in Afghanistan.
Senior Trump administration officials said earlier Thursday that the US was considering a number of responses, including the possibility of providing naval escorts to commercial ships traveling through the Strait of Hormuz. An American military response hasn’t been ruled out, they said, and all options are on the table.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani threw blame for the increased tensions at the U.S., saying Trump was using America’s economic, financial and military capabilities as tools in order to destroy international rules and structures, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency on Friday.
But in remarks to Japanese media, the president of the company that owns the ship said the vessel wasn’t damaged by a mine. A mine doesn’t damage a ship above sea level," said Yutaka Katada, president of Kokuka Sangyo, the owner and operator of the vessel. We aren’t sure exactly what hit, but it was something flying towards the ship, he said.
The crew of a second damaged tanker, the Norwegian-owned Front Altair, was put aboard a Revolutionary Guards Corp vessel, the US said. That ship was sailing in international waters when it was damaged by an explosion, and that the episode was being treated as a hostile attack, its manager said. The ship had loaded a cargo of naphtha in Abu Dhabi and was bound for Taiwan, a company official said.
Suspicious doesn’t begin to describe what likely transpired, he wrote on Twitter on Thursday. That comment was mocked by Pompeo, who described it as sardonic and said that while Zarif might have thought it was funny, no one else in the world did.
The episode came a day after Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen fired a missile at a Saudi airport, wounding 26 people.