GP Insights # 80, 18 June 2019
On June 16, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accused archrival Iran of orchestrating the attacks on Saudi’s commercial oil tankers and warned that he “won’t hesitate” to deal with forces working against Saudi Arabia. Consequentially, Tehran has blamed Riyadh’s “misguided militaristic, crisis-based approach” for escalating regional tensions.
What is the background?
On May 12, four Saudi oil tankers, off the UAE port of Fujairah and anchored in the Gulf of Oman were attacked. Amidst US-Iran standoff and Japanese PM Shinzo Abe’s Tehran visit, two more Saudi tankers were attacked on June 13 – a Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous and a Norwegian-operated Front Altair. Washington’s assessment that the attacks were state-sponsored (by Iran) has gained acceptance from the UK and Saudi Arabia.
What does it mean?
Post US exit from the JCPOA, Washington had re-imposed and strengthened sanctions against Iran. The new allegations find a place in the “maximum pressure” Trump campaign aimed at coercing Iran to the negotiation table to craft a new deal encompassing Tehran’s ballistic missiles agenda. While US military claimed grainy video footage to be evidence of Iranian involvement in the attack, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif used Twitter to blame the US for accusing Iran with a lack of “factual or circumstantial evidence".
In this new chapter of US-Iran stand-off, both states have made clear that neither want war. However, the gulf tanker row is undoubtedly escalating the regional strife. MBS’s allegations followed by USA’s decision to send 1000 more troops to the Middle East may worsen the already deteriorating diplomatic fabric.
Meanwhile, Qatar, Germany and the UN have called for an independent investigation of the issue. Countries like Russia have urged restraint. Nevertheless, search for evidence, and Tehran’s vehement denials continue.