As if things were not tense enough in the Middle East, it now looks as though the region - and beyond - is set for a prolonged period of unrest. Last Thursday's attack on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman came at a time of heightened tensions between the United States and Iran, and raises concerns of a potential wider conflict in the oil-rich region. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of orchestrating the attacks. The Pentagon released footage purportedly showing an Iranian naval vessel removing an unexploded mine attached to the hull of one of the stricken tankers. Teheran says it is not involved, and the Japanese shipping firm that owns one of the tankers says it does not believe its ship was attacked by a mine.
The latest incident resembles a May 12 attack in the same area where four oil tankers were targeted off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. Since Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Teheran last week in an effort to mediate in the crisis between the US and Iran, some reports speculate that the latest incident was staged to discredit his mission. Others draw similarities with the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, a staged confrontation that led to deeper US involvement in the Vietnam War. Be that as it may, since all these latest developments have taken place near the Strait of Hormuz, a vital choke point through which about a fifth of global oil passes, oil prices have jumped and so have insurance premiums, adding sand to the engines of the global economy.