Iranian military seen removing mine from tanker in new vision, USA says

Daniel Fowler
June 14, 2019

US allies in Europe and Asia have repeatedly expressed concern that tension between the United States and Iran could escalate into an armed conflict.

However, Iran's foreign minister Javad Zarif hit back, writing on Twitter the United States had "immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran-w/o a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence".

On the other hand, the Iranian mission to United Nations categorically rejected that "the USA unfounded claim" regarding Gulf of Oman tanker attacks.

Iran denied being involved then and its foreign minister called the timing of Thursday's incidents suspicious, given that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was meeting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran.

Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has hit back at Pompeo, saying the USA allegations against Iran were part of "sabotage diplomacy" adopted by a so-called B Team, which he has said includes U.S. national security adviser John Bolton.

Following up on claims by USA officials that Iran was behind the attacks on a pair of tankers in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday, Central Command released a video on Thursday night through the Associated Press, claiming the video showed Iran removing an unexploded explosive mine from the tanker.

According to a USA official, initial evidence suggested the attack against the Kokuka Courageous was conducted by Iran with a mine similar to what was used against oil tankers off the UAE last month.

Donald Trump has repeatedly said he is not looking to provoke a war with Iran but the United Kingdom and other allies fear that the two sides could stumble into an unintended conflict.

"Tension across the Middle East is high - and the attacks on two tankers have further exacerbated the situation, even though there does not appear to have been any damage to the cargos", John Hall, chairman of British-based consultancy Alfa Energy, said.

The Front Altair was on fire in waters between Gulf Arab states and Iran after an explosion that a source blamed on a magnetic mine. The firm that chartered the Kokuka Courageous tanker said it was hit by a suspected torpedo, but a person with knowledge of the matter told that torpedoes were not used.

Explosions also struck the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous, which was loaded with methanol, but the fire on board was soon extinguished. He described the ships as being hit in a 'reported attack, ' without elaborating.

A USA assessment of Iran's responsibility, which forced the evacuation of the crews in worldwide waters, was based in part on intelligence as well as the expertise needed to carry out the operation, Pompeo told reporters in Washington.

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This is exactly the kind of thing we need to avoid putting on air. "We have only requested them to be fair in their comment. We should also be very careful not to look to create controversy around an event or match at any time".

Iran is locked in a unsafe standoff with America after Washington imposed crippling economic sanctions on Tehran in a bid to force the renegotiation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and curb interventions in Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.

Other Iranian small boats have remained near the stricken oil tanker since the attack early Thursday, the official added. Tehran denied involvement, accusing the USA of waging an "Iranophobic campaign".

The abortive attack using five rebel drones targeted the southwestern city of Khamis Mushait, home to a huge airbase which has been the main launchpad of the coalition's more than four-year bombing campaign in Yemen.

Also in May, the Trump administration said it would send more troops to the Middle East, citing what it saw as a threat of potential attack by Iran.

On May 12, four oil tankers - two Saudi, one Norwegian and one Emirati - were damaged in still unexplained attacks in the Gulf of Oman off the United Arab Emirates.

No country or non-state actor has claimed responsibility for those attacks either.

However, U.S. and European security officials as well as regional analysts cautioned against jumping to conclusions, leaving open the possibility that Iranian proxies, or someone else entirely, might have been responsible.

It accused the USA and its regional allies, which include Iranian rival Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, of "warmongering".

The most radical elements in Iran's military are aiming to show that they can "stop the flow of oil" through the Strait of Hormuz in case of a U.S. or a Saudi attack.

Global benchmark Brent crude was little changed at US$61.35 (S$83.92) a barrel during early Friday trading in Asia, holding Thursday's 2.2 per cent gain.

"We are in a unsafe moment in the region with this emerging pattern of attacks", said Elizabeth Dickinson, senior analyst with International Crisis Group.

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