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US ambassador urges response 'short of war' to Gulf tankers attack

One of two Saudi tankers that were reportedly damaged off the coast of the UAE[AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 14 May, 2019

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Following a thorough investigation, the US should follow up with 'reasonable responses short of war', the US ambassador to Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday.

The US should take "reasonable responses short of war" after determining the perpetrator of the attack on the oil tankers of the coast of the UAE, the US ambassador to Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

"We need to do a thorough investigation to understand what happened, why it happened, and then come up with reasonable responses short of war," Ambassador John Abizaid told reporters in the Saudi capital Riyadh.

Four commercial vessels of various nationalities were allegedly targeted by acts of sabotage off the coast of the UAE on Sunday. The assault, which has yet to be claimed by a group, was condemned across the region.

Washington suspects Iran but Tehran has denied any involvement.

"The incidents in the Sea of Oman are alarming and regrettable," Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Monday.

The US military's preliminary assessment is that Iranian or Iranian-backed proxies used explosives on Sunday to blow large holes in four ships anchored off the coast of the UAE, a US official speaking on condition of anonymity said on Monday.

The official said each ship has a five-to-ten foot hole in it, near or just below the water line, and the team's early belief is that the holes were caused by explosive charges.

The team of US military experts was sent to investigate the damages at the request of the UAE, but American officials have not provided any details about what exactly happened or any proof about the possible Iranian involvement in the alleged sabotage incidents.

Gulf officials have characterised the damage to the tankers as a sabotage. Two Saudi oil tankers, a Norwegian-flagged vessel, and a bunkering tanker flagged in Sharjah, one of the UAE's seven emirates, all suffered similar damage on Sunday.

The damage occurred off the UAE port of Fujairah, which is the UAE's only terminal located on the Arabian Sea coast, bypassing the Strait of Hormuz, a global shipping route through which most Gulf oil exports pass. Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the strait if it is involved in a military confrontation with the US.

The incident comes amid rising tensions between Iran and the US. The US has warned ships that "Iran or its proxies" could be targeting maritime traffic in the region.

Washington has strengthened its military presence in the region, including deploying a number of strategic B-52 bombers in response to alleged threats from Tehran.

The incident comes after months of increasing diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran, which Washington accuses of threatening American interests and allies in the region, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

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