AFTER two similar attacks last month in the vicinity, the world is once more on edge as two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman earlier this week.
Both vessels survived the attack while there were no casualties. However, the war drums are once more being beaten since US President Donald Trump has said the attacks have Iran “written all over” them. The Islamic Republic has denied the accusations, with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeting that the events were “suspicious”, questioning the timing of the attacks; one of the targeted vessels was Japanese and the attack occurred when the Japanese prime minister was in Tehran for bilateral talks. While most US allies have followed Washington’s lead in blaming Iran — the Americans have offered grainy video as ‘evidence’ of Iranian involvement — others have exercised caution. Russia has said there should be no rush to judgement while British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has also questioned the US claim. Moreover, a Japanese firm owning one of the ships has also disputed the American narrative. As the UN secretary general has said, only a “truly independent” initiative can uncover the facts, and it would be unwise for states to use the incident to raise the temperature in an already volatile region and build a wobbly case for war.
Indeed the Gulf region — particularly the Strait of Hormuz — is a strategically key area, especially for the global petrochemical trade. Any closure of this passage or disturbance in the littoral states is likely to throw the global economy into a tailspin. Following the attacks, the price of oil jumped due to heightened fears. The way to proceed is to give the UN the mandate to investigate the attacks — both the ones that occurred this week as well as the ones that happened off the UAE coast last month. The matter is simply too sensitive to let individual states play judge, jury and executioner.
Extra caution is especially needed as there is an active anti-Iran war lobby in the US, backed by supporters in the Gulf and Israel, who would like to see Washington and Tehran engage in conflict. Better sense should prevail instead of bellicose rhetoric, and the attacks should not be used as an excuse for a new war in the Middle East. As the invasion of Iraq has shown, wars launched on the back of dodgy intelligence spell nothing but disaster.
Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2019