The list of mysterious sabotage and attacks on oil installations in the Gulf region is growing. This time it is an Iranian equipment, a tanker, which was hit Friday, October 11 in the Red Sea by two missile strikes. The incident, reported by the owner of the ship, the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC), took place a hundred kilometers from the Saudi port of Jeddah, causing an oil spill.
The operator administering Iran's tanker fleet said in a statement that the "two explosions" that hit the ship's hull "were probably caused by missile strikes". The attack was launched "from a place near the [maritime] corridor through which the tanker passed, in the eastern Red Sea," said the Iranian Foreign Ministry.
According to Francis Perrin, director of research at Iris and specialist in energy issues, the Iranian tanker was close to Saudi Arabia because he probably borrowed the sea route to the Suez Canal to reach the Mediterranean Sea and bring his oil to Syria.
Iran, under international sanctions, has seen its oil exports plummet. The country sells only 200 to 400,000 barrels per day against 2.5 million before the reinstatement of US sanctions in November 2018. Syria, like Turkey and China, is one of the few countries to buy Iranian oil, in very small quantities.
" How not to see a replica of the Saudis "
The incident, which occurred on Friday, is the first in which an Iranian ship is targeted since the beginning of a series of attacks in the Gulf in the spring of 2019. "How not to see a replica of the Saudis after the attacks of 14 September against major sites of Saudi oil company Aramco? "says Francis Perrin.
The destruction of Saudi oil facilities in Aramco, despite being claimed by Houthi rebels in Yemen, is largely attributed by Saudi Arabia and its western allies to the Islamic Republic of Iran. "This remains of the order of the hypothesis but it would have been very surprising that these attacks against Riyadh remain unpunished," said Francis Perrin.
If, on Friday night, Saudi Arabia had not yet reacted to the Iranian tanker's attack off Jeddah, an investigation was underway on the Iranian side over an act described as "irresponsible" by Abbas Moussavi, spokesman. of Iranian diplomacy. Iran's state television said the incident may have been caused by "a terrorist attack".
For Francis Perrin, other hypotheses can be considered. "We think of the Saudis, but also of the Israelis who have the means of such an attack, or of the Iranian opposition groups, or the Islamic State organization." As things stand, nothing can be ruled out. ", analyzes the oil specialist.
One more step towards a war with Iran ?
Anyway, the incident is unlikely to allay the already brisk tensions between Iran on one side, Saudi Arabia and its American ally on the other, waking up fears of a military clash with Iran. "A tanker is not a 'small ship', it is estimated that it carries a million barrels, attacking a tanker in this region that is the heart of global oil is nothing trivial," says Francis Perrin.
Can we speak of an act of war? "We're not there yet, but we can not dismiss this scenario," said Francis Perrin. On both sides, Donald Trump and the Iranian authorities remain on their positions, but none really wants a war. The US president maintains a strategy of maximum pressure on Tehran by trying to annihilate the Iranian economy and weaken the Islamic Republic. While Iran stands up to the United States to force them to negotiate.
"Everyone pushes their strategy without wanting to war, but it's not because we do not want a war that it will not happen, their mutual strategies can quite lead," warns Francis Perrin . The Saudis, meanwhile, would not be against strikes on Iran, said the researcher, but they can not afford it alone.
" The first dead could do casus belli "
For the moment, these successions of attacks in the Gulf did not make any victim. "The first death could make casus belli on the American or Saudi side," said Thierry Coville, researcher at Iris and specialist in Iran. In Tehran, the red line would be "an attack on Iranian territory, including at sea, on off-shore oil rigs".
A threat that Donald Trump has already stirred mid-September from the Oval Office. "There has never been a country more prepared" than the United States to conduct military strikes, "he warned." It would be the easy way for me "," hit 15 major sites in Iran " , "it would only take a minute" and "it would be a very bad day for Iran," he added. "But that's not what I prefer, if possible," he admitted. head of state.
The instability of the US President's political line only adds to the tension. A few months earlier, the White House host said he had retracted "ten minutes before" the launch of a strike against Iran that could have killed 150 people if the US missile had been launched.