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This past Sunday, an incident in the Strait of Hormuz  occurred when four ships were sabotaged by unknown attackers. The ships included two Saudi oil tankers which were attacked off the coast of the U.A.E. One of the ships was destined for the US before picking up oil from Saudi Arabia. The attack, that was predicted by the US (2019), occurred in the aftermath of the US deployment of B.52 bombers along with an assault ship to bolster an aircraft in the region, with the purpose to contain Iran. The isolated country has repeatedly threatened to close the strait in case of any US attack. In the soaring tension, this attack happened and the US was sharp to blame Iran which it warned of dire consequences in case it tried to hurt its interests in the region. Responding to this, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani sharply reacted that the oil-rich country could not be intimated (2019).

Strait of Hormuz is one of the world’s most important waterways and around 20 per cent of world’s total oil consumption (2019) and a third of the world’s liquefied natural gas is exported through this artery(Said, Youseff, & Faucon, 2019).

The initial US assessment suggested Iranian hand and it was the first to say it. Although the U.A.E., and Saudi Arabian authorities stopped short of naming Iran, their ultimate suspicions too always lie with their estranged neighbor (Said, Youseff, & Faucon, 2019).

However, the attack did not cost any loss of human lives but still it caused significant damage to the structure of Saudi vessels. The Saudi Energy Minister termed the attack was aimed at undermining “the maritime freedom and the security of oil supplies.” He urged the global community to ensure the prevention of such incidences and to ensure a secure oil trade environment in the region.

The damaged Andrea Victory vessel is seen off the Port of Fujairah on Monday [Satish Kumar/Reuters]
The recent crisis has its roots since the tensions grew between Iran and the US following the President Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal that had been agreed upon between Iran and the world powers. The US withdrawal coincided with the unilateral sanctions on Iran pushing its already troubled economy into further turmoil as it said it would reduce Iran’s oil export to zero.

“In an environment of rising regional tensions, limited Iranian operations against the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia might be designed to dissuade Abu Dhabi and Riyadh and signal that war with Iran will not be limited to Iranian soil,” said Alex Vatanka from Middle East Institute.

In 2015, Iran and the world powers P5 + 1 agreed to a deal over its nuclear program under with the country had to limit its sensitive nuclear activities, and also making it too accessible to the international inspectors in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions that had crippled the country’s growth, costing it over $160 bn in oil revenue between 2012 and 2016 alone. However, the US withdrew in May 2018 and in the following months Trump slapped economic sanctions on Iran and the countries trading with it, the move opposed by the UK, France and Germany (Iran nuclear deal: Key details, 2019).

If it is a deliberate attack, says a Middle East analyst, then it is possibly a warning from Iran aimed at preempting any US military action against it. Last month, Washington provoked Iran by designating its revolutionary guards as a “foreign terrorist organization” (2019).

Whether the Iran is behind these attacks is still uncertain and the US blame on the isolated state is like claiming to identify an accused as culprit in the dark. It is certainly not helpful as it will lead to further tension in the region. But one thing is certain: if Iran is behind this offensive, it is worrisome and the reflection of failing US policy on Iran since the US withdrawal of the nuclear deal in 2018.

However, better sense should prevail and the both sides should exercise restraint, and since the Iranian Foreign Ministry requested further probe into the matter, fearing it a plot against it by the ill-wishers (Nada Altaher & Westcott, 2019), there should be an independent inquiry into the matter to identify those responsible for the attacks.