CAIRO - Sabotage attacks on four oil tankers in the territorial waters of the United Arab Emirates are stoking fears of a possible conflict with Iran.
Some Arab analysts accused Tehran of responsibility for the attacks Sunday, while Iran is calling for 'further investigation' into the incidents.
Arab media broadcast amateur video purporting to show a Saudi oil tanker burning heavily in the UAE port of Fujairah, Sunday. The UAE indicated four ships were damaged. UAE minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gharghash said 'deliberate sabotage of the four vessels' took place 'within the UAE's territorial waters.'
Saudi Oil Minister Khalid al Falih said two Saudi tankers were heavily damaged in a 'sabotage attack,' but that there was 'no loss of life and no oil was spilled.'
He said the attack was meant to undermine 'the security of oil supplies to consumers all over the world.'
The Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain and Jordan all condemned the attack in Fujairah, expressing support and solidarity with the UAE.
Saudi analyst Issam al Malakawi told Sky News Arabia 'Iran staged the attacks [in Fujairah] to help improve the morale of its people, [who] are suffering from the economic sanctions [imposed by the United States]. But,' he added, 'Iran does not understand that it is playing with fire and could ignite a larger conflict.'
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Moussavi called for 'further investigation,' warning the incident may have been 'part of a plot by parties trying to create havoc in the region.'
Khattar Abou Diab, a political science professor at the University of Paris said the Gulf region is 'now in a critical period where things could either escalate
He claimed that some parties in Iran might be looking to provoke a crisis via proxy.
He said Iran had a habit during the first Gulf War from around 1984 of taking a provocative stance against certain Gulf countries, mounting operations against international shipping to show their presence and send messages to certain countries, especially those who are trying to replace their oil exports.
Abou Diab suggested it is 'more likely that Iran would try to launch an attack via one of its proxies in Syria, Lebanon or Iraq, than to attack any Gulf country, directly, since that could provoke U.S. retaliation against its own territory.'
Arab media reported the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Lincoln has now passed Bab al Mandeb, off the coast of Yemen, en route to the Persian Gulf.
The U.S. has also sent B-52 bombers to the Udeid Air Base in Qatar.