Riyadh issues new warnings on Iran, escalates risk of conflict

Published 17.06.2019 00:24

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) said in remarks published Sunday that the kingdom will not hesitate to confront threats to its security, following attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman that have raised fears of a broader confrontation in the region.

In interview with the Arabic-language newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Prince Mohammed accused Iran of being behind the latest tanker attacks. He said Iran disrespected the visit to Tehran by the Japanese prime minister last week and responded to his diplomatic efforts to reduce regional tensions by attacking two tankers, one of which was Japanese.

His comments came just days after the U.S. blamed Iran for suspected attacks on two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, denouncing what it called a campaign of "escalating tensions" in a region crucial to global energy supplies. The U.S. alleges Iran used limpet mines to target the tankers, pointing to black-and-white footage it captured that American officials describe as Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops removing an unexploded mine from the Japanese-operated tanker, Kokuka Courageous.

The U.S. accusations come as the Trump administration has reimposed punishing economic sanctions on Tehran once lifted by the 2015 nuclear deal, targeting Iranian oil exports among other key sectors. In recent weeks, the U.S. has sent an aircraft carrier strike group and other military assets to the region aimed at Iranian deterrence.

Iran has rejected the U.S. claim that it was responsible for Thursday's attacks, saying it stands ready to play an active and constructive role in ensuring the security of strategic maritime passages. Iran has also been accused of being behind the May 12 attacks on four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Two of those vessels belonged to Saudi Arabia.

Thursday's attacks took place southeast of the Strait of Hormuz, a vital corridor connecting the energy-rich states of the Middle East with markets in Asia, Europe, North America and elsewhere. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), 35 percent of the world's seaborne oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran, which is struggling with crippling U.S. sanctions, has repeatedly warned in the past that it could block the Strait in a relatively low-tech, high-impact countermeasure to any attack by the U.S. Doing so would disrupt oil tankers travelling out of the Gulf region to the Indian Ocean and global export routes.

Iran's parliamentary speaker said yesterday that Washington could have been behind the "suspicious" tanker attacks, the official news agency IRNA reported. "The suspicious actions against the tankers... seem to complement the economic sanctions against Iran, considering that [the U.S.] has not achieved any results from them," he told MPs.

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