Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies have expressed grave concerns over the recent string of sabotage attacks on oil tankers off the UAE coast and the Gulf of Oman, and accused Iran of involvement in the attacks.

Tehran has vehemently denied the claims, and accused the US and its allies of escalating the crisis in the region.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not seek a military confrontation with Iran, but is committed to working with its allies to stop Iran’s “aggressive” behavior, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir has said.

“I think the situation is very grave because of the aggressive behavior of Iran,” al-Jubeir said, speaking to reporters in London on Thursday.

“When you interfere with international shipping, it has an impact on the supply of energy, it has an impact on the price of oil which has an impact on the world economy. It essentially affects almost every person on the globe,” the foreign minister said, reiterating Riyadh’s previous charges about Iranian involvement in the tanker attacks.

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Al-Jubeir challenged claims made by the Iranian side and by others that some other power was trying to drag the US into a war with Iran, suggesting this was a ‘ridiculous’ assertion to make.

The diplomat also reiterated that Riyadh and its allies were still contemplating “various options” regarding how to respond to Iran in protecting regional waterways. He warned that any attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz would generate a “very, very strong reaction.” Iranian officials have previously warned that the strategic strait, through which an estimated one-third of the world’s seaborne oil supplies are transported, might be closed in the event of aggression against Tehran.

(Photo by Nicolas Raymond / Flickr)

Tensions in the Middle East escalated again last week following an attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on 13 June. The United States, Saudi Arabia, and other powers almost immediately blamed Iran for the attacks. Tehran has vehemently denied the claims. Last week, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that US claims didn’t contain “a shred of factual or [even] circumstantial evidence,” and alleged that the tanker incident was an attempt by the US and its Saudi, Emirati and Israeli allies to engage in “sabotage diplomacy” to “cover up its economic terrorism against Iran.”

Last week’s incident was the second alleged sabotage attack in a month. On 12 May, four tankers, including two Saudi ships, one Emirati vessel and one Norwegian tanker, were hit in similar attacks off the coast of the UAE. The US and its allies blamed those attacks on Iran, as well.

Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran have been rocky for decades. The regional powers, seen as the leaders of the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam, respectively, have accused one another of waging proxy wars in countries across the region, from Yemen to Syria. In 2016, Riyadh severed all diplomatic ties to Tehran after Iranian activists attacked Saudi diplomatic missions in the Islamic Republic in protest of Saudi authorities’ decision to execute a prominent Saudi Shiite cleric.

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