Tankers Are Attacked in Mideast, and U.S. Says Video Shows Iran Was Involved – The New York Times
Video released by U.S. Central Command shows a patrol boat pulling up to the Kokuka Courageous, one of two ships attacked in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday. Personnel removed what American analysts believe was a limpet mine from the ship. A military spokesman said the patrol boat was an Islamic Revolutionary Guard vessel.CreditCreditU.S. Dept. of Defense
Explosions crippled two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday in what the United States called “unprovoked attacks” by Iran, raising alarms about immediate security and potential military conflict in a vital passageway for a third of the world’s petroleum.
Iran called the accusations part of a campaign of American disinformation and “warmongering.”
The explosions forced the crews of both vessels to evacuate and left at least one ablaze, and hours later the causes were still under investigation. Yet the backdrop of steeply rising threats between President Trump and Iranian leaders gave the stricken ships a grave significance even before the facts became clear.
By afternoon, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that American intelligence agencies had concluded Tehran was behind the disabling of both ships. He pointed to the weapons used, the expertise and resources required and the similarity to other recent attacks attributed to Iran.
The most compelling evidence to support Mr. Pompeo’s claim was video footage released Thursday night by the United States Central Command. A military spokesman, Capt. Bill Urban, said the video showed an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps patrol boat pulling up alongside the Kokuka Courageous, one of the stricken ships, several hours after the initial explosion, and removing an unexploded limpet mine in broad daylight.
Also on Thursday night, the United States military released two photographs of the ship’s hull, showing damage and what it said was likely the unexploded mine.
“Taken as a whole, these unprovoked attacks present a clear threat to international peace and security,” Mr. Pompeo told a news conference in Washington.
Senior American officials had already blamed Iran for similar attacks last month against four tankers on the same waterway. Iranian officials, who denied any involvement in those attacks, also rejected assertions they were behind the events on Thursday and said Iran had been framed.
“Suspicious doesn’t begin to describe what likely transpired this morning,” Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, wrote on Twitter. Mr. Pompeo, firing back at his news conference, said Mr. Zarif “may think this is funny, but no one else in the world does.”
The Kokuka Courageous was about 20 miles off the Iranian coast when it transmitted an emergency call for help after an initial explosion. When the crew surveyed the damage from the first explosion, they saw a second unexploded mine attached to the hull and evacuated the ship, according to the American officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive intelligence matter.
The confrontation also played out at the United Nations in a meeting of the Security Council, where the acting United States ambassador, Jonathan Cohen, told other members that Iran was behind the attacks. Iran’s United Nations mission issued a statement afterward denouncing the “inflammatory remarks” by the American representative, calling them part of “another Iranophobic campaign” of disinformation.
“The U.S. and its regional allies must stop warmongering and put an end to mischievous plots as well as false flag operations in the region,” the Iranian statement said.
Earlier Thursday, the United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, expressed “deep concern” that the new episode might lead to a military escalation.
Besides its importance as a petroleum highway, the Persian Gulf also divides bitter and heavily armed rivals, with Iran on one side and the American-backed Arab monarchies of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on the other.
The two sides have fought for years through surrogate forces in neighboring countries, including Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Bahrain. Saudi and Emirati forces have been battling directly for more than four years to roll back a takeover of Yemen by a faction aligned with Iran.
Anxieties over the shared dependence on the vulnerable Persian Gulf shipping lanes have always been central to their animosities, and a commitment to guaranteeing the flow of oil through the same channels is behind the substantial American military presence in the region.
Iranian officials on Thursday suggested the new attacks might be the product of an elaborate conspiracy by their enemies, seemingly pointing to American allies like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates or Israel, which have long urged Washington to take a more muscular approach to Iran.
But many analysts said there was a growing consensus in the West that Iran had been behind last month’s attacks, which took place near the port of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates. And they argued that Iran appeared to be seeking to demonstrate it could imperil the world’s oil markets, but without leaving the kind of fingerprints that could trigger American military retaliation.
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“As long as there is significant ambiguity the attacks won’t produce a casus belli,” or cause for war, said Jack Watling, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute in London. “But Iran is demonstrating its capabilities. It is saying, ‘We can impose a cost on our adversaries in this confrontation, and it will be high.’”
Crude oil prices rose more than 3 percent in response to the crippling of the two ships on Thursday, indirectly boosting Iran’s revenue as an oil producer.
The initial White House response on Thursday was measured. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said Mr. Trump had been briefed and that the “U.S. government is providing assistance and will continue to assess the situation.”
It was only a few hours later that Mr. Pompeo publicly blamed Iran.
The escalation came against the backdrop of a visit to Iran by the prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, who was hoping to de-escalate tensions between Tehran and Washington and avert any “accidental clashes.”
Mr. Abe was carrying a note from Mr. Trump to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, who rebuffed the overture. “I do not see Trump as worthy of any message exchange, and I do not have any reply for him, now or in future,” Mr. Khamenei said Thursday after meeting with Mr. Abe, according to the ayatollah’s website.
The animosity between Washington and Tehran began rising a year ago after President Trump withdrew the United States from a 2015 deal with international powers that limited Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for eased economic sanctions on the country of 80 million people.
Then, laying out sweeping demands for Iran to alter its policies toward the region, Mr. Trump in April ratcheted up the pressure by imposing severe sanctions aimed at cutting off Iran’s exports of oil, the lifeblood of the now-struggling Iranian economy. He also designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, a part of the military, as a terrorist group.
In May, citing unspecified warnings of imminent Iranian attacks on American allies or interests, the Trump administration announced it was dispatching an aircraft carrier group to the Persian Gulf as a deterrent.
“If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter last month. “Never threaten the United States again!”
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