An initial US assessment has indicated that Iran was likely to be behind the attack on two Saudi Arabian oil tankers and two other vessels damaged over the weekend off the coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), an American official said.
The assessment, while not conclusive, was the first suggestion by any nation that Iran was responsible and comes after a series of US warnings against aggression by Tehran or its allies and proxies against military or commercial vessels in the region, reports Efe news.
The US official on Monday didn’t offer details about what led to the assessment or its implications for a possible American response.
Last week, the US said that it was sending an aircraft carrier, an amphibious assault ship, a bomber task force and an anti-missile system to the region after it alleged intelligence showed Iran posed a threat to its troops.
“If they do anything, they will suffer greatly. We’ll see what happens with Iran,” President Donald Trump said while meeting Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban at the White House earlier on Monday.
The Saudi tankers were among at least four oil-industry vessels, including ships from Norway and the UAE, attacked on Sunday in the Gulf of Oman off the UAE’s eastern coast just outside the Strait of Hormuz as they prepared to cross into the Persian Gulf.
The attacks caused “significant damage to the structures of the two (Saudi) vessels,” Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said on Monday, calling the incident “sabotage”.
Falih said one of the ships was headed to the Saudi port of Ras Tanura on the Persian Gulf to load oil bound for the US.
Neither Saudi Arabia nor the UAE have publicly blamed Iran for the attack so far.
The attacks sent oil prices higher and heightened worries about global supplies amid petroleum-production outages because of unrest in Venezuela, a civil war in Libya and sanctions on Iran.
Saudi and American US officials have long worried about the Strait of Hormuz becoming a battleground should tensions with Iran break out into open conflict.
A third of the world’s liquefied natural gas and almost 20 per cent of total global oil production flows through the Strait of Hormuz for export from Persian Gulf countries. Cutting off oil shipped through the strait would cause shortages and soaring prices.
Meanwhile Iran, which borders the Strait of Hormuz, called the incident “worrisome and dreadful” and called for a full investigation.