Iran says still-mysterious attack on oil tanker won't go unpunished

AP, Bloomberg, Reuters

Iran said Saturday that an attack on one of the country’s oil tankers won’t go unpunished, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said a day after two missiles struck the Iranian tanker Sabiti as it traveled through the Red Sea off the coast of Saudi Arabia that “vicious behavior in international waterways will not go without a response.”

Shamkhani said an Iranian committee had gleaned some information on the attack from video images from the Sabiti.

Also on Saturday, Cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei said Iran is investigating the case while “avoiding hastiness.”

Nobody has claimed responsibility, and the Iranian government hasn’t accused anyone of carrying out the assault.

The National Iranian Tanker Co. has released photos of damage to the hull of the Sabiti, which was loaded with about 1 million barrels of crude oil.

The mysterious attack, which came amid months of heightened tensions at sea across the wider Mideast, damaged two storerooms aboard the tanker. Iran said the tanker will arrive at one of its ports in about 10 days.

Saudi Arabia broke its silence on the incident Saturday, saying through its state-run news agency that authorities received an electronic message Friday from the captain of the Sabiti “that the front of the vessel has been broken, resulting in an oil spill in the sea from the cargo and tanks of the vessel.”

It said the Sabiti continued moving and turned off its electronic tracker without offering more information.

“The kingdom affirms its commitment to the security and safety of maritime navigation, as well as international agreements and norms,” the statement on the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.

As Washington and Riyadh weigh a response to a drone-and-missile strike on the kingdom’s oil industry that shook global energy markets, Iran said any attack by the U.S. or Saudi Arabia will spark an “all-out war.”

The attacks came after President Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally withdraw America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers and impose crushing sanctions targeting Iran’s crude oil sales and shipments. Iranian officials warned for weeks that if they couldn’t sell their oil, neither would anyone else in the region.

Iran’s foreign ministry said Saturday it is prepared to hold talks with Saudi Arabia with or without the help of a mediator, ahead of a visit by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Two senior Pakistani government officials confirmed that Khan was going to Tehran to try to defuse tensions between the two rivals, after Trump asked for his help.

“The prime minister is also visiting Saudi Arabia next week,” one official said on Saturday. “His mission is to try open negotiations, or some sort of confidence building for the two rival countries to start some talks.”

Iran’s foreign minister signaled earlier in the week that his country would be willing to discuss regional issues with Saudi Arabia, but that Riyadh had to stop “killing people.”

Saudi Arabia is locked in several proxy wars in the region with Iran and has blamed Tehran for attacks on Saudi oil plants on Sept. 14, a charge Iran denies. The kingdom has said it prefers a political solution to a military one.