UAE says tanker attacks likely carried out by state actor

Initial findings suggest attacks were part of ‘sophisticated operation’, UAE says, but does not blame any country.

An Emirati coast guard vessel passes an oil tanker off the coast of Fujairah
An Emirati coast guard vessel passes an oil tanker off the coast of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, Monday, May 13, 2019. Saudi Arabia said Monday two of its oil tankers were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates near Fujairah in attacks that caused "significant damage" to the vessels, one of them as it was en route to pick up Saudi oil to take to the United States. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell) [The Associated Press]

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has said the preliminary findings of a probe into attacks on oil tankers off its coast last month showed that they were part of “a sophisticated and coordinated” operation that was likely carried out by a state actor – but did not lay the blame on any country.

The UAE, along with Saudi Arabia and Norway, presented on Thursday the initial findings of the investigation during a briefing to United Nations Security Council, which will also receive the final results of the probe to consider a possible response. 

In a document on their briefing to the Security Council members, the three countries did not mention Iran, which has been accused by the United States of being directly responsible for the May 12 attacks that came at a time of rising tensions between Tehran and Washington. Iran has denied any involvement.

The countries’ joint investigation said the.attacks required expert navigation of fast boats and trained divers who likely placed limpet mines with a high degree of precision on the vessels – two Saudi-flagged, a Norwegian-flagged and an Emirati-flagged – under the waterline to incapacitate but not sink them.

They said they believed it was the work of several teams of operatives, which coordinated the timed detonation of all four explosive charges within less than an hour.

“While investigations are still ongoing, these facts are strong indications that the four attacks were part of a sophisticated and coordinated operation carried out by an actor with significant operational capacity, most likely a state actor,” they said.

While the briefing document did not mention Iran, a Saudi diplomat accused it of being the culprit.

“We believe that the responsibility for this action lies on the shoulders of Iran. We have no hesitation in making this statement,” Abdallah Y Al-Mouallimi, the Saudi ambassador to the UN, told reporters in New York.

COUNTING THE COST: The US, Iran and global oil markets (25:41)

The tanker attacks occurred off the UAE emirate of Fujairah, which lies just outside the Strait of Hormuz, a vital global oil and gas shipping route that separates the US-allied Gulf Arab states and Iran.

In the weeks before the attacks, the administration of US President Donald Trump hardened its policy against Iran by fully reimposing sanctions on Iranian oil exports and designating the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a “foreign terrorist organisation”. 

Washington has also sent nuclear-capable bombers and an aircraft carrier strike group to the Gulf, a move labelled by Tehran as “psychological warfare”.

Saudi Arabia maintains the attacks affect the safety of international commercial navigation and the security of global oil supplies, requiring a response from the Security Council.

Russia‘s Deputy Ambassador to the UN Vladimir Safronkov told reporters after the closed-door briefing that no evidence was presented linking Iran to the attacks.

“We shouldn’t jump to conclusions,” Safronkov said. “This investigation will be continued.”

UN diplomats say that any attempt at the Security Council to punish Iran for the attacks is likely to face opposition from Russia.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton said last week that Iranian mines were likely used in the attacks.

“There’s no doubt in anybody’s mind in Washington who’s responsible for this,” Bolton said last week during a visit to Abu Dhabi.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that Iran was trying to raise the price of oil as Washington works to end Iran’s exports of crude.

Regional tensions have spiked since President Donald Trump’s administration reimposed sanctions against Tehran after the US pulled out of a landmark multinational nuclear deal with Iran.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies