The black and white surveillance video is exceedingly grainy. It shows what U.S. military officials say is an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp patrol boat bobbing alongside the Kokuka Courageous, one of the two tankers damaged by explosions Thursday in the Gulf of Oman that the Trump administration blamed squarely on Iran.
In the 1:39-minute video, released late Thursday by the U.S. Central Command, several crew members aboard the Gashti-class patrol boat appear to be removing an object from the hull of the tanker before the boat then backs up and motors away. The video is far too fuzzy to discern what the object is. But according to the U.S. military officials, the Iranian crew members removed one of their own unexploded limpet mines to hide evidence of their involvement in the explosions. The officials said several Iranian patrol boats had rushed to the Kokuka Courageous to rescue crew members who had abandoned ship in rafts and told the Iranians about the unexploded mine.
The video was released a few hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared in a statement: “It is the assessment of the U.S. government that the Islamic Republic of Iran was responsible for the attacks that occurred in the Gulf of Oman today.”
Pompeo said the assessment was based on “the intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.”
“One has to keep asking the question, well, if it isn’t Iran, who the hell is it?” Anthony Cordesman, a strategic analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Newsweek. “You come up with the possibility that ISIS carried out the attack as trigger to turn two enemies — the United States and Iran — against each other. Or you’re watching Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates create an incident that they can then use to increase the pressure on Iran.”
Ayham Kamel, the head of Middle East analysis for the Eurasia Group, an international risk analysis consultancy, said recent attacks by Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels on Saudi oil installations are now threatening the kingdom’s core security concerns.
“The Saudis are alarmed,” Kamel told a conference call Friday. “Their response is going to be to try to pressure the U.S. into action.”
Others have pointed to the possibility that Thursday’s attacks, as well as the attacks on four tankers in the same waters a month ago, were so-called “false-flag” operations carried out by Israel, another arch foe of Iran, to make Iran appear responsible. And some observers have even suggested the attacks may have been directed by hawkish members of the Trump administration as a pretext to launch military operations against Iran.
“The U.S. track record on ginning up evidence for war is not good,” William Church, a former military investigator for the United Nations Security Council. “It lied in the run-up to the Vietnam war [by inventing a North Vietnamese attack on a U.S. Navy ship in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964], and it lied about WMD [weapons of mass destruction] before the Iraq war. So when these tanker attacks happen, we have to ask why and what’s the motivation in addition to examining the evidence.”
Church pointed to the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal last May, its reimposition of economic sanctions on Tehran and Trump’s recent denial of sanctions waivers to eight of Iran’s biggest oil customers under the president’s policy of “maximum pressure,” aimed at forcing to negotiate a new nuclear deal under terms more favorable to the United States. Church also noted that Trump’s hawkish national security adviser, John Bolton, has openly called for regime change in Iran.
With regard to the video, Church said much more needs to be known before any conclusions about Iranian responsibility can be drawn. “The video means nothing,” he told Newsweek. “We need to know how it was taken, when was it taken, what was the total sequence. Then you’d have to talk to the people in the video to get their view of what happened. I would check to see if the video was doctored. You would need to do everything that a trained investigator would do.”
Church, who also served for many years as a U.S. intelligence officer in the Middle East and East Africa, acknowledges that the Iranians have the Gashti-class patrol boats. But he notes that Iranian Navy, not the Revolutionary Guards, have the closest naval base to the site of the attacks, suggesting a possible discrepancy in the U.S. Central Command’s description of the Iranian craft’s affiliation. He also points out that the video does not make it clear which of the two stricken tankers is depicted.
In addition, Church said it’s not clear whether limpet mines caused the explosions in either tanker. Limpet mines are usually attached by divers to the hulls of ships at the water line. There have been some reports that crew members aboard one of the tankers saw a flying object, possibly a drone, heading toward the ship before the explosion occurred, raising the possibility that a drone delivered the explosives.
“Drones and limpet mines are a dime-a-dozen out there in the Middle East,” he said. “Everybody has them. So we need to know a lot more that what the video shows us.”
Church also says it’s not clear why, in the latest attacks, Iran would target tanks belonging to Norway and Japan, two of Iran’s best oil customers. “They’ve been shipping to these countries for decades,” he said. “Why would they do that?” Church says an independent investigation of the attacks is needed to determine responsibility.
Cordesman, who believes the Iranians are probably behind the attacks, says under Iran’s increasingly dire economic circumstances, attacking long-standing customers makes perfect sense. “You push your customers into realizing that their supplies are threatened and then have them react against the United States,” he said. “So to get that reaction, you provoke it.”
Oil prices have been given a convenient reprieve on the eve of OPEC’s decision as to whether it will extend the supply cuts at a time when demand growth is slowing. Thanks to alleged attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, not only are the speculators once again redirecting their attention from demand and trade wars, but insurance prices are bound to skyrocket and help push oil up for a longer period – even if speculators have a very short attention span for geopolitical provocations.
The Tanker Incident: The Hidden Truths Behind Conflict Escalation
As expected, and despite actual intelligence or evidence of any kind, the Trump administration is squarely blaming Iran, with Israeli media most vociferously jumping on the bandwagon.
Trump’s ‘expert take’ on this can be summed up in a way that no Western world leader would even conceive of doing; not even George W. Bush. As statements of major foreign policy consequences are typically delivered on Twitter during this administration, Trump said it was the government’s “assessment” that Iran was behind the attack. An “assessment”, in this world, means absolutely nothing and is not based on intelligence. It is based purely on political capital.
The fact is that there is no evidence of Iranian involvement either in this attack or in the sabotage of tankers, which was horribly overplayed in the media, last month.
The only truths we have to work with here are the following:
– Early Thursday, a Norwegian-owned tanker and a Japanese-owned vessel underwent apparent attacks while transiting through the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf of Oman.
– The Norwegian tanker was carrying Qatari ethanol to Taiwan; the Japanese vessel was carrying methanol from Saudi Arabia to Singapore.
– The Norwegian ship experienced three explosions, while the Japanese ship caught fire.
– Both the US Navy and the Iranian naval forces responded to distress calls from the vessels, while the Iranian naval forces rescued crew members from both.
– The attacks were well-planned and well-coordinated, as well as being extreme precision attacks, clearly designed to cause minimal real damage. They were designed to be highly visible, but not to destroy vessels or cargo, or to take lives.
– The Japanese ship had a hole caused by an unidentified type and make of artillery shell, which was discovered on the ship, according to the ship’s owners. The methanol cargo was not harmed. The ship is not in danger of sinking.
– The Norwegian tanker reported three explosions onboard, and no reports of incoming artillery or torpedoes. A US navy source reported seeing an unexploded limpet mine on the side of the vessel, which could account for the nature of these explosions. Limpet mines are attached magnetically. However, the ship’s owner in the case refutes this account entirely.
In this case, the weaponry tells us nothing. Limpet mines are naval weapons, but anyone can get their hands on them, and in the era of globalization, they change hands many times over. The US has released images it claims proves that Iran was behind what was a mine blast on the Norwegian ship; but, again, the owners of the ship – meaning eyewitnesses – refute this.
Even our deepest sources inside royal circles in Saudi Arabia do not believe that this was a state actor attack perpetrated by Iran. That sentiment, however, will never be made public as it is not in the interests of either Saudi Arabia or the UAE to pin this attack on anyone but Iran or its Houthi allies from Yemen. The Saudis and the UAE have high-level back channels with Iran, as we have mentioned before.
Nor would Iran attack a Japanese ship at exactly the time that the Japanese prime minister was visiting Tehran. There is absolutely no benefit in such an escalation, in such a manner, for Iran.
Always look to the beneficiaries, and not to the media espousing unintelligible statements from world leaders with clear agendas.
It is highly irresponsible of the Trump administration to lay the blame squarely on Iran for these alleged attacks. The media has forgotten conveniently that there is still no conclusive evidence that Iran was involved in last month’s attacks, either.
There are many beneficiaries in this game, from Israel and even Russia to the Saudi-UAE band and the Trump administration. We know without a doubt from our assets in Riyadh that MBS and MBZ are both attempting to escalate tensions without having them escalate to the point of actual conflict. This is a difficult balance to maintain, especially with MBS and his itchy trigger finger, which worries MBZ, his UAE mentor.
But the precision of this attack is what is most telling, which was accomplished with a fair amount of finesse that did no major damage in the end. It was meant to be visible and specifically to escalate tensions.
At least two high-level intelligence consultants for major hedge funds tell us that the nature of the attack, the motives and an assessment of historical precedents would more readily indicate Israeli intelligence involvement, which does not always suggest involvement at the political level.
Both the Mossad and AMAN (Israeli military intelligence) have been masters of sabotage when it comes to Iran. Together with American intelligence, Israeli intelligence has launched a number of sabotage operations aimed at taking down Iran’s nuclear projects, including sabotage of equipment and even through the Stuxnet computer virus. The Mossad has also taken out key Israeli scientists in its sabotage operations.
The Israeli intelligence apparatus is keen to ensure that tensions remain escalated with Iran and that Trump does not become complacent, as he did soon after last month’s attacks on four oil tankers in the same region. Those attacks, for which accusations that Iran was involved have not been proven, were followed by high-level rhetoric coming out of Washington, but then a clear pullback and cool-down when the trade war with China quickly took center stage again. There will be more such attacks if Trump fails to get the world on board with this Iran narrative, though the next round of precision attacks may be different in nature.
Oil speculators are already growing skeptical after the attacks: While oil prices shot up on news of the tanker attacks, by Friday morning they were paring some of those gains on the poor oil demand picture. They are still focusing more on fundamentals, and the trade war with its threat of global recession is still the key factor. But the fact is, if certain forces desire conflict with Iran, they will force it, with or without evidence. It seems fairly easy to get the media on board with this in 2019.
Lam told a press conference on Saturday that she will suspend indefinitely all work on the bill. Her administration will now hold consultations with various parties before deciding how to proceed.
The bill would have allowed for the extradition to mainland China of Hong Kong, foreign, and Chinese nationals living and visiting the territory. However, it has faced months of criticism from legal and business bodies over fears it would threaten Hong Kong’s status as a financial hub.
That account contradicts what the U.S. military has said as it released a video it says shows Iranian forces removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the two ships in the suspected attack.
Speaking at a news conference in Tokyo, Yutaka Katada, president of Kokuka Sangyo Co, said he believes the flying objects seen by the sailors could be bullets, and denied possibility of mines or torpedoes because the damages were above the ship’s waterline. He called reports of mine attack “false.”
Katada said the crew members also spotted an Iranian naval ship nearby, but did not specify whether that was before or after the attacks. The tanker survived the first attack that hit near the engine room, followed by another causing damage to the star-board side toward the back.
Meanwhile, Japan’s defense minister said the government has no intention of sending Japanese troops to respond to attacks on a Japanese-operated oil tanker in the Middle East.
All 21 Filipino crewmembers of the vessel were rescued and were now on a U.S. warship.
Takeshi Iwaya told reporters at a news conference that the situation is not considered an imminent threat to Japan.
Iwaya said Japan doesn’t think the so-called “Self-Defense Force has a necessarily role to play at this point and we don’t plan to send them to the Strait of Hormuz region in response to the attacks.”
The Afghan security forces targeted a compound of Lashkar-e-Taiba group in Kunar province killing at least 3 foreign terrorists.
The 201st Silab Corps in a statement said the 2nd Brigade of Silab Corps conducted artillery strikes on Lashkar-e-Taiba compound in ASmar district on Wednesday.
The statement further added that the compound belonged to Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Majid alias Adalat.
The security forces killed 3 foreign terrorists of the group and wounded 5 more during the operation, the 201st Silab Corps added.
The anti-government armed elements have not commented regarding the operation so far.