DUBAI — The United Arab Emirates said Sunday that four of its commercial ships “were subjected to sabotage operations,” after false reports circulated in Lebanese and Iranian media outlets saying there had been explosions at one of the nation’s seaports.
The statement carried by the state-run WAM news agency did not say who the UAE suspected of carrying out the sabotage in Gulf waters off its coast, or identify the ships involved.
The statement said there had been “no injuries or fatalities on board the vessels,” and “no spillage of harmful chemicals or fuel.”
Earlier Sunday, pro-Iran Lebanese media and Iranian media falsely reported that there had been explosions at oil tankers at the port of Fujairah. The Associated Press found the reports to be unfounded, after speaking to Emirati officials and local witnesses.
Tensions in the region were climbing over the weekend, which began with the US announcing on Friday that it would move a Patriot missile battery to the Middle East to counter threats from Iran.
The Pentagon provided no details, but a defense official said the move came after intelligence showed that the Iranians have loaded military equipment and missiles onto small boats. The official, who was not authorized to discuss the information publicly, spoke anonymously.
It was not clear whether the boats with missiles represented a new military capability that could be used against US forces, or were only being moved to shore locations.
The US removed Patriot missile batteries from Bahrain, Kuwait, and Jordan late last year. It was not clear if the batteries would be returned to those countries. The Patriot air defense system is meant to intercept both incoming aircraft and long-range ballistic missiles.
Also on Friday, the US Maritime Administration warned that Iran could try to attack American commercial vessels, including oil tankers, Reuters reported.
US officials announced Sunday that they would rush an aircraft carrier strike group and nuclear-capable bombers to the region.
On Thursday, US President Donald Trump said he sought talks with Iran.
“What I would like to see with Iran, I would like to see them call me,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “We don’t want them to have nuclear weapons — not much to ask.”
“We have information that you don’t want to know about,” Trump said. “They were very threatening and we have to have great security for this country and many other places.”
Asked about the possibility of military conflict with Iran, the president said: “I guess you could say that always, right? I don’t want to say no, but hopefully that won’t happen. We have one of the most powerful ships in the world that is loaded up and we don’t want to do anything.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday threatened a “swift and decisive” US response to any attack by Iran.
Iran last Wednesday said it would suspend some commitments under a 2015 nuclear accord rejected by Trump, frustrated that renewed US sanctions have prevented the country from enjoying the economic fruits of compliance with the deal.
The moves by the US have frightened some European allies, as well as Trump’s Democratic rivals, who fear the administration is pushing for war, based on overhyped intelligence.
TOI staff and Agencies contributed to this report