GP Insights # 73, 15 June 2019
Amid rising tensions in the Gulf, two oil tankers were allegedly attacked on 13 June 2019 in the Gulf of Oman, off the Iranian coast. The US navy's fifth fleet responded to distress calls from the two tankers over a reported attack. The ships belonged to a shipping firm in Japan and a Norwegian company operated another. The exact source of the fire remains unknown. However, reports and operators have suggested that a torpedo could have hit the ships.
The attacks immediately stirred up tensions in the region with a response coming in from many countries. Secretary of state Mike Pompeo went on to blamed Iran for the attacks stating that the US had evidence based on intelligence about the type of weapons used, the of expertise required to execute the operation and other similar assessments. The US military also released a video in which it shows Iran's Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded mine from the side of an oil tanker damaged in an attack in the Gulf of Oman.
The Iranian were quick to respond, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif accused the US making baseless allegations without any factual or circumstantial evidence. The rest of the world has also reacted to this incident. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also issued a statement where he said that the world could not afford a major confrontation in the Gulf region and he condemned the attacks. UK's foreign secretary said it would conduct its investigation to the attacks; however, the starting point for them is the claims of the US. The EU called for what they termed as maximum restraint while Russia went out to state that no-one should jump to conclusions or use this incident to put pressure on Iran.
What is the background?
Tensions have been high ever since the US pulled out of the nuclear deal in 2015, which aimed at restricting Iran's nuclear activities and the tightened of US sanctions on Iran mainly targeting its oil sector in May.
In recent months the US has strengthened its forces in the Gulf region, stating that there was a danger of Iranian attacks. This attack is the second incident since the heightened regional tensions following attacks on four ships off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in May near Fujairah, just outside the Strait of Hormuz.
What does it mean?
An escalation of tensions in this region is highly dangerous and worrying to both players in the regions as well outside. These attacks not only cause a further rise in tension, but it could have a ripple effect and cause several other problems. With waters becoming more unsafe, the supply of oil to the entire world could be at risk as 30% of the world's crude oil is transported through this region.
Although both the US and Iran have stated that they have no interest in a large-scale war, these frequent clashed could have an impact on this statement. However, adequate measures would need to be taken to avoid a full-blown war situation and an agreement targeted to deescalate the issue needs to be done.