Attacks on four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates last month were “most likely” perpetrated by a “state actor”, the United Nations Security Council has been told.
But the UAE’s joint investigation did not specify which country was believed to be behind the attacks, which US officials have said they suspect were carried out by Iran.
In a statement outlining its briefing to the Security Council on Thursday, the UAE’s permanent representative to the UN said that a preliminary investigation into the May 12 incident found evidence of a “sophisticated and co-ordinated operation carried out by an actor with significant operational capacity”.
The perpetrators were divers deployed from speed boats who attached mines to the four ships, a report said.
Tensions in the Gulf spiked last month after the sabotage of the oil tankers off the UAE coast, a drone attack on Saudi oil infrastructure claimed by the Iran-allied Yemeni Houthi militia and a rocket explosion near the US embassy in Baghdad.
The incident heightened fears that shipping lanes in the Gulf, crucial to much of the world’s oil exports, could become flashpoints as tensions escalate between the US, its Arab allies and Iran.
John Bolton, the hawkish US national security adviser, has blamed Iran for the tanker attack, warning of a “very strong response from the US” against the Islamic republic and its proxies.
The US has bolstered its military presence in the Gulf with additional troops, bombers and an aircraft carrier group. The heightened deployment is to deter any further incidents, US officials have said.
The UAE, alongside close ally Saudi Arabia, has been leading attempts to challenge regional rival Iran’s influence in the Arab world, from Syria and Lebanon to Iraq and Yemen, welcoming the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear pact and backing tougher sanctions on Iranian crude exports.
Anwar Gargash, the UAE minister of state for foreign affairs, called on the Security Council to help hold the “perpetrators accountable” while also stressing de-escalation.
“In the current political climate, the UAE stands united with regional and international partners in order to reduce tensions in the region and ensure the security of international shipping and global energy supplies,” he tweeted on Friday.
Abdallah al-Mouallimi, the Saudi ambassador to the UN, said: “We believe that the responsibility for this action lies on the shoulders of Iran. We have no hesitation in making this statement.”
Tehran has distanced itself from the tanker incident and warned against “adventurism” in the region. Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman said in the aftermath of the incident that it was “worrisome” and “regretful”.
The investigation said that the sabotage of the vessels, which were targeted in UAE territorial waters 12 nautical miles off the emirate of Fujairah, required a “high degree of co-ordination” and technical and intelligence capabilities of the area’s geography and the ships themselves.
The investigation was conducted alongside Saudi Arabia and Norway, whose vessels were also targeted in the attack, which resulted in no casualties or oil spills. International partners, such as the US and France, were also closely involved in the probe. The attacks were designed to “incapacitate the ships without sinking them or detonating their cargoes,” the report said.
The attack, most likely carried out by several teams of operatives, required the expert navigation of fast boats that were able to intrude into UAE territorial waters and withdraw the operatives after delivering the charges, it added.