The reports of a missile attack will almost certainly ratchet up tensions in the region, where a rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran has been playing out in various ways, including the seizure of a number of oil tankers and an attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure.
The location of Friday’s episode, in the Red Sea, was on the other side of Saudi Arabia from the Persian Gulf, where many of the high-profile confrontations involving Iran have taken place, but still along a main oil transport route.
Several hours after the reported attack, no country or organization had stepped forward to claim responsibility. Dryad Global, a maritime security firm, noted that the location, just off the west coast of Saudi Arabia, pointed to Saudi involvement, but said in an analysis that the kingdom would have little to gain from such a move.
“In terms of Saudi interests within the region, it remains unclear why Saudi would seek to target Iran in this manner,” the firm wrote. “An attack of relatively low sophistication with limited and almost negligible strategic gain would be highly irregular and not serve any Saudi strategic narrative.”
Lt. Pete Pagano, a spokesman for the United States Navy’s 5th Fleet, said the military was “aware of reports of this incident,” but did not elaborate, The Associated Press reported.
Strains have been rising in the Persian Gulf since President Trump pulled the United States out of the nuclear deal with Iran last year and reimposed crushing economic sanctions. Amid tanker seizures and drone strikes, the escalating tensions have raised fears of an all-out war in the region, with President Trump at one point calling off airstrikes at the last minute after Iran shot down an American surveillance drone.
The attack on two major Saudi oil installations last month showed how vulnerable the kingdom, which supplies about a 10th of the world’s oil, is to industrial warfare.