Oil tanker incident heats up tensions between US, Iran

From now on, all oil tankers passing through the Strait of Hormuz are going to have additional security, and maritime patrols in the region are going to be beefed up, Izvestia learned from a source in Norway’s Frontline company, whose Front Altair oil tanker was one of the two vessels that had come under attack in Iran’s territorial waters on Thursday. However, experts interviewed by the paper say it is too early to blame the incident on Tehran.

The maritime areas where civil navigation is at risk are protected by international groups involving naval ships from various countries, US Center for Naval Analyses expert Michael Kofman told the paper. According to him, several ships, including American and British ones, are deployed to the zone where the attack took place. Their task is to combat pirates and provide assistance to ships in distress. Oil tankers only carry staff members of private military companies hired by ship owners, the expert noted, adding that those mercenaries were capable of thwarting attacks by pirates aboard light boats, armed with portable grenade launchers and AK rifles, but they couldn’t detect saboteurs underwater.

According to Head of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies’ Center of the Near and Middle East Vladimir Fitin, forces seeking to push the US towards a direct armed conflict with Iran were behind the tanker attack. The expert believes that it could be the Arab monarchies or Israeli intelligence agencies. However, he did not rule out that pirates at sea like those active off Somalia’s coast and at the entrance to the Gulf of Aden were involved in the incident.

Last year, amid growing tensions with the US, Iran threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, through which almost 20% of total global oil consumption passes, Vedomosti notes. However, this time it would be unreasonable to suspect Iran, said Maria Belova of Vygon Consulting. She pointed out that on May 12, four oil tankers had caught fire on the left side of the Strait and no one had claimed responsibility for the incident. "Today, two vessels are on fire on the right side of the Strait and there is no information about the cause of the fire. It would make more sense for the Iranians to deploy artillery to the Strait area and nearby islands to prevent ships from passing," Belova said.

Professor Vladimir Sazhin, a Senior Researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, believes that the incident should be blamed on some militant organizations rather than on Iranian or Arab state agencies. In his view, terrorists seek to further raise tensions in the Persian Gulf area.

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