News that two tanker ships have suffered suspected attacks in the Gulf of Oman, near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, has focused new attention on the region as tensions have risen between the United States and Iran — and between their allies.
Where is the Strait of Hormuz?
The Strait of Hormuz is the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf. It is in the territorial waters of Iran and Oman and is an international transit route. Its narrowest point is 24 miles wide. But the width of the shipping lanes — one in each direction — is only 2 miles wide. When ships travel eastward into the Gulf of Oman, they then can then travel to the rest of the world.
Why is the strait in the news?
Two oil tankers near the strait suffered suspected attacks on Thursday. The United States has blamed Iran.
The incident comes after the U.S. alleged that Iran used mines to attack four oil tankers off the nearby Emirati port of Fujairah last month. Iran has denied being involved. Meanwhile, Iranian-allied rebels in Yemen have increased their missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally that has been at war in Yemen against the rebels since 2015.
Why is the strait important?
One third of all oil traded by sea, which amounts to 20%of oil tradedworldwide, passes through the strait.
Major OPEC energy producers Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait use the strait to export oil. The strait is also used to export gas worldwide from Qatar, the world's biggest liquefied natural gas producer.
Anything affecting the narrow passage ripples through global energy markets, raising the price of crude oil. That then trickles down to consumers through what they pay for gasoline and other oil products.
What happens now?
How the U.S. and Iranian governments react to the event will be key. The United States has recently moved more military forces into the region, which already hosts the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet in Bahrain and the forward headquarters of the U.S. military's Central Command at the vast Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
Iran says it will enrich its uranium stockpile closer to weapons-grade levels if world powers fail to negotiate new terms for its nuclear deal. It said a deadline of July 7.