Commodity Corner: Oil Rises on Iran's Suez 'Provocation'

Crude oil for March delivery gained 67 cents Wednesday on news of a new potential flashpoint in the Middle East.

Israel's foreign minister reported Wednesday two Iranian warships were en route to Syria via the Suez Canal. The reported action would mark the first time Iranian military vessels have transited the key link between the Mediterranean and Red seas since the Islamic Republic was created 32 years ago. The Israeli official called the act a "provocation" by Iran, which contends the move is part of a training mission to defend Iranian vessels from piracy in the region.

Given the heightened risk of yet another conflict in the already restive Mideast, oil settled at $84.99 a barrel Wednesday. The WTI rose despite a U.S. Department of Energy report that the country's total commercial crude stocks increased last week to 345.9 million barrels. The 800,000-barrel increase was the fifth straight week-on-week gain since January 7.

Oil fluctuated from $84.12 to $85.95 during Wednesday's trading.

March natural gas slipped by seven cents during the midweek session on moderating weather conditions in much of the Midwest and Northeast. Gas settled at $3.92 per thousand cubic feet as the region welcomes a thaw following weeks of bitter cold.

Natural gas futures traded within a range from $3.91 to just shy of $4.00: $3.997. Front-month gasoline ended the day a nickel higher at $2.54 a gallon. It peaked at $2.55 and bottomed out at $2.485.