Tensions have ratcheted up in the Gulf region after a criminal operation that targeted international shipping near UAE territorial waters, at a distance of about 115km from Iran. Four commercial vessels were sabotaged, including two Saudi oil tankers. Fortunately, the attack didn’t lead to any casualties or oil spills. However, it caused significant damage to the structures of the two Saudi ships. The UAE also quashed all rumours about ships inside the port being sabotaged. Though the precise nature of the incident remains unclear, it comes at a time of heightened tensions in the Gulf. Washington has deployed an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and Patriot missile batteries to the region amid a deepening tussle with Iran over the regime’s nuclear programme. The US has warned ships that “Iran or its proxies” could be targeting maritime traffic in the region.
Shipping is the lifeline of global commerce. Almost 90 per cent of international trade is carried out through the seas. Without maritime trade, movement of most raw materials, food products, and manufactured goods would be impossible. Seaborne trade is cost effective, and there are over 50,000 merchant ships plying the international maritime routes, moving every kind of cargo imaginable. Safeguarding this trade from malicious acts is an international responsibility.
The Strait of Hormuz is crucial to the world economy as almost 20 per cent of the world’s petroleum (about 35 per cent of the petroleum traded by sea) passes through the waterway. What happened off the coast of Fujairah is a serious and unprecedented escalation against the international community, as it targets the lifeblood of the global economy.
With its immense prosperity and political stability, the UAE presents a success story like none other in the region. It has become a model that many in the Middle East and beyond try to emulate. And then there are those who, instead of working to create economic conditions that uplift their populations, try to spread chaos and instability in the region. For a long time, the UAE and other Gulf states have warned about nefarious actions like this from unscrupulous security actors and their militia allies in the region. The need of the hour is for a serious, international probe into the incident, and for those found guilty to be held accountable under international law.
The region, and the world at large, cannot continue to tolerate entities that seek to disrupt normal life in the pursuit of questionable agendas that entail nothing but misery. Such rogue actors must be brought to book.