The US military is investigating the alleged sabotage attacks on four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a US official has confirmed to Al Jazeera.
The move comes as Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif said his country had anticipated an event that would escalate tension in the region.
The four ships – two Saudi, one Norwegian and one Emirati – were allegedly damaged on Sunday in what Emirati officials described as acts of sabotage near the port of Fujairah.
The incident happened 140 kilometres south of the Strait of Hormuz, where about a third of all oil traded by sea passes through.
Al Jazeera’s Rosiland Jordan, reporting from Washington, said the US military was asked to get involved in the probe.
“A CENTCOM official is confirming to Al Jazeera that, at the request of the United Arab Emirates, the US military is helping with their investigation.”
|The Norwegian-flagged oil tanker MT Andrea Victory off the coast of Fujairah [UAE National Media Council via AP]|
Speaking during a visit to India, Zarif said he discussed the oil tanker incident with Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, adding that Iran had anticipated “activities to escalate tension” by hardliners in the US and the Middle East.
“We … talked about the policies that hardliners in the US administration as well as in the region are attempting to impose,” Zarif told Iranian state TV in India after a bilateral meeting with Swaraj.
“We raised concerns over the suspicious activities and sabotage that are happening in our region,” Zarif added.
“We had formerly anticipated that they would carry out these sorts of activities to escalate tension,” the foreign minister said.
Details of the alleged sabotage remained unclear, and UAE officials have declined to say who they suspected was responsible.
But it demonstrated the raised risks for shippers in a region vital to global energy supplies as tensions are increasing between the US and Iran over its unravelling nuclear deal with world powers.
US President Donald Trump has warned Iran that if it does “anything” in the form of an attack it will “suffer greatly”.
US military plan
On Monday, the New York Times reported the top US defence official has presented an updated military plan to Trump’s administration that envisions sending up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East should Iran attack US forces or accelerate work on nuclear weapons.
Citing unnamed administration officials, the Times said Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented the plan at a meeting of Trump’s top security aides on Thursday.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Pentagon declined to comment.
Tensions between Iran and the US have intensified since Trump pulled out of a 2015 international deal to curb Iran’s nuclear activities and imposed increasingly strict sanctions on Tehran.
Trump wants to force Tehran to agree to a broader arms control accord and has sent an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Gulf in a show of force against what US officials have said are threats to US troops in the region.
Iran has said the US is engaging in “psychological warfare”, called the US military presence “a target” rather than a threat and said it will not allow its oil exports to be halted.
The Times said among those attending the Thursday meeting were Trump’s NSA John Bolton, CIA Director Gina Haspel, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford.