Two oil tankers were damaged on Thursday in a suspected attack near the entrance to the Persian Gulf, stoking fears that high-stakes diplomatic efforts won’t avert a military confrontation between the U.S. and Iran. Oil prices surged.
The incidents, including an attack on a Japanese-operated vessel, were the second in a month to hit ships near the Strait of Hormuz chokepoint, through which about 40 per cent of the world’s seaborne oil travels.
They come as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a rare ally of both Donald Trump and Iranian leaders, visits Tehran in an effort to ease tensions.
“Even in the absence of ironclad evidence, the U.S. and its allies will point the finger at Iran,” said Fawaz A. Gerges, professor of Middle Eastern politics at the London School of Economics. “These incidents are a bad omen because they point to a calculated escalation that tells us both sides are hunkering down.”
The prospects of a conflict have spiked since the Trump administration tightened in early May its sanctions on Iranian oil exports. Trump abandoned a year ago the 2015 deal that was meant to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb and reimposed sanctions in a bid to force the Islamic Republic to rein in its military program and proxy militias.