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Iranian general's death raises likelihood of more attacks in Middle East: analysts

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Iranian general's death raises likelihood of more attacks in Middle East: analysts

Highlights

Pentagon confirms US killing of Soleimani

Brent futures surge by more than $2/b

Iran expected to target more Middle East energy infrastructure

Washington — Crude oil futures spiked in Asia Friday on news that the US had killed General Qassim Soleimani, leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's foreign wing, in a strike in Iraq.

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The killing of General Soleimani also increases the likelihood of additional attacks on Middle East energy infrastructure and the possibility of military conflict between the US and Iran, analysts said.

"This is a seismic event in the region," Jason Bordoff, director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, tweeted Thursday. "Abqaiq was just the beginning."

AxiTrader's chief Asia market strategist Stephen Innes said in a note Friday: "This is more than just bloodying Iran's nose. This is an aggressive show of force and an outright provocation that could trigger another Middle East war."

Analysts believe that Iran, without the hope of sanctions relief, will likely continue to goad the US with more attacks, including attacks on oil infrastructure.

Rapidan Energy views Iran's most likely next oil targets as refineries in Yanbu, a Red Sea port in western Saudi Arabia; the Safaniya oil field in the Persian Gulf, the world's largest offshore oil field and stabilization towers in the Khurais oil field, which were previously attacked on September 14.

Crude oil futures jumped by more than $2/b during mid-morning trade in Asia Friday following reports that the airstrike in Baghdad had killed Soleimani.

In a statement late Thursday, the US Department of Defense confirmed that Soleimani was killed by the US military in response to his role in attacks on American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region, including his approval of the attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad this week.

"The strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans," the Pentagon said.

"The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world."

The killing of Soleimani is another chapter in the Trump administration's maximum pressure campaign against Iran, which include sweeping sanctions on oil and other exports.

Due to sanctions, Iranian oil exports, which averaged more than 1.7 million b/d in March, fell below 500,000 b/d in August, September and October, based on estimates compiled from shipping sources and cFlow, Platts trade-flow software.

Exports were at an estimated 400,000 b/d in November, according to preliminary Platts estimates.

At 12:18 pm Singapore time (0418 GMT), front month March ICE Brent crude futures were $1.95/b (2.94%) higher than Thursday's settle at $68.20/b, while the NYMEX February light sweet crude contract was $1.72/b (2.81%) higher at $62.90/b.

"Rising geopolitical risks will keep oil prices up, as markets remain jittery over heightened military action in the Middle East," said Benjamin Lu, investment analyst at Phillip Futures.

-- Brian Scheid, brian.scheid@spglobal.com

-- Avantika Ramesh, avantika.ramesh@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Norazlina Jumaat, norazlina.jumaat@spglobal.com