International Relations Multilateral Prelims cum Mains

Two tankers attacked in Gulf of Oman

The news

  • Two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman, driving up oil prices and stoking fears of a new confrontation between Iran and the U.S.

 

Background

  • Before 2015, the UN, US and EU suspected that Iran was using its nuclear energy programme to develop a nuclear bomb.
  • They imposed sanctions on Iran with the demand to curb its sensitive nuclear activities.
  • In return to the sanctions, Iran threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, which is an important artery for oil trade in the Middle East region.
  • After negotiations, Iran reached a nuclear deal with six countries – the US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany in 2015.
  • According to the deal, Iran agreed to limit the enrichment of uranium and allow inspections by IAEA in lieu of lifting the sanctions imposed on Iran’s Oil exports.
  • Later, in May 2018, the US President backed off from the deal and reinstated economic sanctions on Iran and demanded-
    • Renegotiation of the deal to also cover Iran’s ballistic missile programme
    • Inclusion in negotiations of the matter of Iran’s involvement in conflicts around the Middle East
  • The new sanctions triggered an economic meltdown in Iran and led to soaring inflation and thus Iran responded by backfooting on its commitments under the deal.
  • In July 2018, Iran hinted that it could disrupt oil trade through the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for U.S sanctions.
  • Recently, in May 2019, four commercial ships – 2 of Saudi Arabia, 1 of UAE and 1 of Norway – were targeted with a “sabotage attack” near Strait of Hormuz.
  • The US alleged that Iran, which borders the Hormuz strait, is responsible for the attack but Iran denied this allegation.
  • As a consequence, the US deployed warships and some troops to the region to counter threats from Iran to its forces and maritime traffic.
  • These events increased the tensions in the Middle East.
  • Now, again in June 2019, oil tankers in Gulf of Oman, near Strait of Hormuz were attacked.

 

Summary of the news

  • Two oil tankers – one Japanese-owned and one Norwegian-owned, were attacked recently in the Gulf of
  • The US secretary of state said that according to their intelligence officials, Iran is responsible for the attack on these two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.
  • Iran has denied the U.S. accusations.
  • Russia came in support of Iran and urged caution while drawing any conclusions about the attack.
  • Britain and Germany showed concern, as the situation has now become dangerous and urged that all sides needed to avoid an escalation.
  • The location of the attack is given in the image below-

 

 

Impact of the attack

  • Oil price hike: Crude prices climbed 4% after the attacks on oil tankers near the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz.
  • New confrontation: It has now instilledfears of a new confrontation between Iran and the U.S.

 

About Strait of Hormuz and its significance

  • Strait of Hormuz is a waterway separating Iran and Oman.
  • It connects the Gulf to the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea.
  • It is 21 miles wide at its narrowest point, but the shipping lane is only two miles wide in either direction.
  • Almost a fifth of the world’s oil passes through this strait, which is around 17.2 million barrels per day.
  • Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Iraq export most of their crude via this strait.
  • Qatar, the world’s biggest liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter, sends almost all of its LNG through this route.

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