Tensions in the Middle East rose again over the weekend after reports indicated that four oil vessels were “attacked” or “sabotaged” at the mouth of the Persian Gulf near Fujairah Emirate, just outside of the Strait of Hormuz. The United Arab Amirates (UAE) stated that the damaged ships were two crude oil tankers owned by Saudi Arabian shipping firm Bahri, one fuel bunker barge flying a UAE flag and Norwegian oil products tanker owned by Thome Ship management. These reports are still largely unconfirmed, but come as no surprise given the recent rhetoric and geopolitical tensions facing the region.
As is stands today, Iran is denying its involvement in the incidents. According to Reuters, “A senior Iranian lawmaker said “saboteurs from a third country” could be behind it, after saying on Sunday the incident showed the security of Gulf States was fragile.” While the United States does not have conclusive proof of who carried out the attacks, they view Iran as the most likely candidate. Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz for a few years as a response to Western sanctions, but these attacks appear to be the first evidence that Iran is following through with the threat. Vivian Yee of the New York Times states “about 40 percent of the world’s crude oil is transported through the Strait of Hormuz,” which makes it the most strategic and important passage for worldwide oil shipments. Both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait rely heavily on transporting crude oil through the strait, and any disruptions can have a major impact on global oil trading.
While we do not have confirmation about who actually sabotaged the four oil related cargo ships, any country with interests in the Middle East is on high alert. Traffic through the strait has frequently been threatened but rarely interrupted, which makes these recent attacks even more alarming. The United States has sent an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Gulf to try and prevent these attacks from happening in the future, but we shouldn’t be surprised if this type of sabotage occurs again.