Iran Said Another 'State' Was Behind a Missile Attack on Its Oil Tanker

Iran's top diplomat has said a foreign government was behind an alleged recent missile attack on one of the country's oil tankers in the Red Sea.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif revealed on Tuesday further details about the ongoing investigation into yet unexplained blasts Friday that targeted the Sabiti vessel as it transited the Red Sea. Conflicting reports have emerged about the incident, which follows previous attacks similarly shrouded in mystery on tankers of various flags and nationalities in the Gulf of Oman.

"The attack on Iran was a sophisticated, state-sponsored action," Zarif told the country's official parliamentary news agency.

A spokesperson for the official National Iranian Tanker Company originally suggested the attack was the result of missiles fired by Saudi Arabia as the ship was located just miles off the port of Jedda at the time of the incident. The National Iranian Oil Company later dismissed this statement, saying "the origin of the attacks is not yet known."

iran blast oil tanker explosion saudi
A photo shared October 11 by the National Iranian Oil Company shows what is said to be the Sabiti oil tanker on the day that it was targeted in an alleged missile attack in the Red Sea, about 60 miles off the port of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. National Iranian Oil Company

The National Iranian Oil Company later released images Monday showing what appeared to be a pair of holes above the water on the ship's right side. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani commented on the incident that same day at a press conference in Tehran, claiming there was video of the attack, though it has not yet been released.

"The tanker has a camera and this camera captured images, through these images it is quite clear where the missile comes from and how it strikes," Rouhani told reporters. "Parts of this missile have been collected from within the ship, we saw the pieces when the footage was sent. Of course, the ship must arrive and a closer look must be taken."

Though damaged, the ship is said to be operating normally and on its way back to Iran. Rouhani also expressed the opinion that "there is certainly a government involved and it is not a terrorist act," warning there would be "consequences" for those found responsible following the investigation.

Citing a spokesperson for Saudi Arabia's border guards, the official Saudi Press Agency reported Saturday that the Sabiti's captain had sent an electronic message stating that the ship had sustained damage and was leaking oil. The border guards' said their coordination center received the message and responded, but the Iranian ship did not reply and continued sailing further south of Jeddah.

iran strait hormuz persian gulf oil
A graphic displays some of the world's most important chokepoints for maritime oil traffic, with the tense Strait of Hormuz hosting the flow of some 16.8 million barrels a year. The Red Sea links the Suez Canal and Bab el-Mandeb chokepoints.

Source: Statista

Both the United States and Saudi Arabia have blamed Iran for other unclaimed blasts that struck vessels, including those owned by the kingdom, in the Gulf of Oman in May and June as tensions between Washington and Tehran worsened. President Donald Trump and his administration has sought to sever Iran's ability to sell oil with sanctions since they left a 2015 nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic, which still backs the agreement, alongside fellow parties China, the European Union, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom.

The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have also jointly held Iran responsible for last month's attacks on two of the kingdom's oil facilities, despite the operation being claimed by Yemen's Zaidi Shiite Muslim movement known as Ansar Allah or the Houthis. The group has been at war for years with a Saudi-led, U.S.-backed coalition that accuses it of receiving direct Iranian assistance.

Amid various instances of unrest in the Persian Gulf region, the U.S. has called for an International Maritime Security Construct so far supported by Australia, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the U.K. and the UAE. Iran, however, has opposed the introduction of foreign forces to the area, calling instead for a regional approach known as the Coalition for HOPE, or Hormuz Peace Endeavor.

The initiative has received so far received foreign support from Russia and China, which have largely blamed Persian Gulf tensions on the U.S. decision to exit the nuclear deal.