Middle East Tension Escalates Again as Iranian Vessel Explodes Off Saudi Coast

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An Iranian oil tanker cruising 60 miles off the coast of Saudi Arabia was rocked by a pair of missiles Friday, briefly causing an oil leak and more broadly threatening to further inflame fraught regional tensions between the two heavyweight Muslim nations.

Iranian state television reported the explosions damaged two storerooms aboard the oil tanker – which is owned by the National Iranian Oil Company – and caused an oil leak into the Red Sea near the Saudi port city of Jeddah. The leak was later plugged, IRNA reported.

“This latest incident, if confirmed to be an act of aggression, is highly likely to be part of the wider narrative of deteriorating relations between Saudi and the U.S. and Iran,” according to an assessment provided to the Associated Press by private maritime security firm Dryad Maritime. “It is likely that the region, having been stable for the last month, will face another period of increasing maritime threats, as the Iranian and Saudi geopolitical stand-off continues.”

The stricken vessel, identified by IRNA as the Sibiti, was carrying about 1 million barrels of crude oil when it was struck, an analysis from data firm Refinitiv showed.

The news agency did not say whom Iranian officials suspect may be responsible for launching the missiles.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi described the incident as an “attack” carried out by those committing “dangerous adventurism.” In a statement, Mousavi said the Sabiti was struck twice in the span of a half-hour and an investigation was underway.

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