Troubled waters. Two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday, according to the Bahrain-based U.S. Fifth Fleet and Iranian media. The attacks took place roughly 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the Iranian port town of Jask and just southeast of the Strait of Hormuz, through which around a fifth of the world’s seaborne oil shipments passes. A torpedo is believed to have struck one tanker, a Norwegian-owned vessel carrying a shipment of petrochemical feedstock naphtha from Abu Dhabi, according to unnamed industry sources quoted by shipping newspaper Tradewinds. Images posted on social media show the abandoned ship adrift and ablaze. The owner of the other, carrying a cargo of methanol from Saudi Arabia, said merely that it had been damaged on its starboard side as a result of a “suspected attack,” that the vessel was not in danger of sinking, and that its cargo was still intact. No one has claimed responsibility, but an unnamed U.S. defense official said it was “highly likely” that Iran was to blame. Japan’s Trade Ministry said both tankers carried “Japan-related” cargo, which makes the timing of the attacks a bit curious, occurring as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was wrapping up a two-day visit to Tehran in a bid to reduce tension between Iran and its adversaries. Of course, it also comes just weeks after four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, were targeted in “sabotage” attacks – involving limpet mines “almost certainly from Iran,” according to the Trump administration – in nearby waters. The U.S. accused Iran of being behind the May incidents. At this point, there’s no evidence pointing to Iranian involvement in the latest incident or showing that the apparent attacks were indeed caused by torpedoes. But it’s worth noting that Iranian proxies in Yemen have been showing off an increasingly sophisticated arsenal of late. Yesterday, for example, Houthis claimed responsibility for an apparent strike on a Saudi airport with a projectile that, per footage released by the rebels, looks similar to Iran’s Soumar ground-launched cruise missile. If true, it is believed to be the first use of cruise missiles by the Houthis.
U.S. warnings. Speaking alongside Polish President Andrzej Duda at the White House on Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump repeated a threat that Washington may implement sanctions to try to stop the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project. Trump did not specify where sanctions might be applied, but two U.S. senators have crafted a bill that would target the vessels laying the pipeline and deny visas to company executives linked to the ships, among other penalties. The Danish Energy Agency said late last month that Nord Stream 2 may not be ready to transport gas until the second half of 2020. Meanwhile, Trump also vaguely threatened to shift U.S. troops deployed in Germany out of the country and into Poland if Berlin does not increase its defense spending to the NATO target of 2 percent of gross domestic product. While announcing the deployment of 1,000 additional U.S. troops to Poland, the U.S. president said they would be coming out of Germany or another foreign location.
South African land reform. A panel appointed to evaluate the impact of land expropriation without compensation in South Africa submitted its final report to President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday. Last year, the African National Congress proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow land expropriation without compensation, and parliament approved the plans in December. Parliament will debate the bill again in October, but in the meantime, all parties have been waiting for the panel of experts to submit its report, which was originally due in April. Land reform is one of the biggest challenges facing South Africa. Decades (or even centuries, depending on how you define it) of institutionalized racism resulted in an inequitable distribution of wealth in the country. Lack of access to education, in part the result of a lack of domestic investment funds, has held back much of South Africa’s majority black population. But land reform would put the final nail in the coffin for foreign investors, whom South Africa needs to generate more revenue to invest in things like education, infrastructure and health care.
- Hong Kong lawmakers delayed debate on a contentious extradition bill, which has sparked mass protests since the weekend, for the second consecutive day. Protest organizers called for another mass march on Sunday.
- Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Bishkek to discuss the potential for cooperation in countering U.S. pressure on trade.
- The Italian government is hoping to convince the European Commission to delay a decision on penalties over its public finances by several months, by which time tax revenue data will be in, according to four Italian coalition sources who spoke to Reuters. Rome expects midyear tax return data in July to be better than expected.
- China’s ambassador to the U.K. said that, if the British government banned China’s Huawei from its 5G network, as the U.S. has urged it to do, it could dissuade other Chinese businesses from continuing to invest in the country.
- China rejected a personal request from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for a phone conversation with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in January about two Canadians who have been detained in China since December, the CBC reported Thursday.
- North Korea is implementing emergency measures to stem the contamination of its hog herds by African swine fever from China.
- Less than 10 percent of British companies that would need to apply for a special status to avoid import disruptions in the event of a no-deal Brexit have done so, according to information gathered by BBC Newsnight.
- France’s prime minister gave more details on the next phase of President Emmanuel Macron’s domestic reform agenda. Unemployment benefits for high earners will be decreased, incentives will be offered to keep people working beyond the retirement age of 62, and companies will be encouraged not to hire workers on short-term contracts.
- Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said the Mexican government will hold weekly discussions with Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to coordinate efforts to curb migration.