Troubled Waters

Shipping affected in the Strait of Hormuz

60 nations recently converged in Bahrain to discuss an action plan to deal with recent attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf.

No proof has been put forward, nor has there been an admission of guilt of any kind, but the Gulf leaders and their Western partners involved in a new alliance to secure oil shipments in the Strait of Hormuz have been clear on where they place the blame.

“The meeting is an occasion to exchange views on how to deal with the Iranian menace and to guarantee freedom of navigation,” Bahrain’s foreign ministry stated in a Tweet.

Since May, the US, along with Saudi Arabia, have pinned the origin of several attacks on oil-transporting tankers in the region on Iran.

Four oil tankers were attacked that month, two Saudi, one Norwegian, and one Emirati.

A subsequent inquiry led by the UAE suggested that the explosions registered were most likely caused by limpet mines, a type of device that is magnetically attached to the hull of the boats below the water line.

More attacks on vessels followed in June and later, in September, Saudi oil infrastructure was also targeted.

The succession of events increased friction between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Since the beginning, Iran has denied involvement, but this mystery took a turn for the perplexing just last week when Iran announced that one of its own tankers carrying Naphtha was hit by two missiles off the coast of Saudi Arabia, according to Iranian State Media.

The proximity to Saudi Arabia suggests the vessel could have been hit from land in retaliation. Analysts have also suggested that Israel, who opposes both Iran and Saudi Arabia, could have sabotaged the boat to cause further tension between the two big rivals and disrupt Iranian oil supplies.

Others suggest a terrorist group could be behind the attacks. Iran has promised to retaliate.

It is within this context that a group of 60 nations, which include the US, the UK, and Australia, along with most of the GCC countries and also Israel gathered in Bahrain to discuss maritime and air security in the region, through which a third of the world’s oil supply flows every day.

Bahrain hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet on its territory, a strategic base for US security interests in the region.

Together, the sixty nations have formed a coalition to reinforce security in the gulf, but while the reason behind it lies in the attacks on the tankers, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, indicated in a letter that the gathering went in a different direction. “The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, whether by air or sea, poses a serious threat to international peace and security,” he wrote. “Together, we must all be committed to taking the necessary actions to stop countries that continue to pursue weapons of mass destruction at great risk to all of us.”

The target of the message is undoubtedly Iran, and ties directly to the non-proliferation agreement signed between Iran and a global coalition during the Obama era, from which President Trump has decided to pull out.

In fact, the reason so few European allies joined the US in this security operation in the Gulf is likely because they are still trying to save the delicate non-proliferation agreement with Iran. The final outcome of all these moves, statements, and decisions, is anyone’s guess, but everyone involved, and not just the ones responsible for the attacks, seem to be playing with fire, in one of, if not the most important maritime trade corridors on the planet.

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