Julian Borger – The Guardian June 13, 2019
The US military has released video footage it says shows an Iranian military patrol boat approach one of two tankers attacked in the Gulf of Oman, to support the Trump administration’s claims that Iran was responsible.
The blurry black and white footage, taken from the air, shows a small military boat alongside the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous, and someone standing up on the prow of the boat to remove an object from the tanker’s hull. The small boat then pulls away from the tanker.
US officials were quoted as saying the boat was an Iranian Revolutionary Guard patrol boat approaching the tanker after it was attacked on Thursday, and the object removed was an unexploded limpet mine. It was unclear whether it was being alleged the Iranian sailors were detaching the mine in order to remove evidence.
Thursday’s attacks ratcheted up tension between the US and Iran, which are locked in a volatile standoff after Washington imposed crippling economic sanctions on Tehran in an attempt to force the renegotiation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
The incidents also added to security fears over oil tankers traveling through the the strait of Hormuz – a chokepoint for the global oil and gas trade – and appeared to have snuffed out a Japanese-led mediation effort between Tehran and Washington.
The US military also released a photo it claimed showed a mine on the side of the Kokuka Courageous and some damage to the hull.
The operator of the tanker suggested the vessel was struck by a missile. The crew saw “flying objects” just before it came under attack in the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday, according to Yutaka Katada, president of the Tokyo-based owner Kokuka Sangyo.
The vessel’s crew had spotted an Iranian naval ship nearby, he added, but did not say whether that was before or after the attack, which damaged its starboard side.
Earlier the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said the US believed blasts on the two tankers were caused by the Iranian military “based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation”. He also claimed that the attacks, had such a high degree of sophistication they could not be have been carried out by a proxy.
Pompeo offered no evidence for his claims and took no questions after making his allegations. He said that Iran had been responsible for a previous wave of attacks on tankers last month, but the official investigation into those attacks did not determine who had been responsible. He also claimed a 31 May car bomb in Afghanistan which killed Afghan civilians and wounded four US soldiers, had been carried out by Iran. The attack had been claimed by the Taliban.
Tehran denied all responsibility and its foreign minister Javad Zarif suggested others could be trying to provoke a conflict between Iran and the US.
The incident took place on a day Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, bluntly rejected the proposal of a resumption of US-Iranian talks, suggested by Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, on a visit to Tehran. Abe is widely thought to have had the blessing of Donald Trump in offering to open a channel of communications between the US and Iranian leaders.
But after Khamenei’s rejection and the tanker attacks, Trump followed suit, posting a tweet saying: “I personally feel that it is too soon to even think about making a deal. They are not ready, and neither are we!”
The blasts on the tankers on the Kokuka Courageous and the Norwegian-owned Front Altair pushed oil prices up by 4% and could further raise insurance premiums for vessels operating in the Gulf. Crew members from both vessels were rescued. One of the crew of Kokuka Courageous suffered burns on his hands and was treated by a US Navy medical team
Confirming the involvement of its ships, US Central Command issued a statement warning it would not tolerate any attempt to interfere in their operations but insisted it was not interested in conflict.
It added that the destroyer USS Mason was en route to the scene of the attacks to support the USS Bainbridge, which took in the crew from the Kokuka Courageous.
Saudi Arabia supported Pompeo’s claims. Its foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir said on Thursday: “We have no reason to disagree with the secretary of state. We agree with him.”
The UK foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt called the tanker attacks deeply worrying but said Britain would be making its own assessment of responsibility.
Khamenei dismissed the notion of talks with the US, saying in a series of tweets “I do not consider Trump as a person worth exchanging any message with and I have no answer for him, nor will I respond to him in the future”.
He added Iran had no plan to build nuclear weapons, but if it wished to do so, the US would be unable to stop it.
Pompeo said the attacks on the tankers were intended as insult to the Japanese leader.
“Iran’s supreme leader rejected Abe’s diplomacy today by saying he has no response to president Trump and will not answer,” he said.
The US put its allegations before a closed session of the UN security council on Thursday. Iran responded by accusing the US of stoking tensions and mounting a campaign of crippling sanctions.
The United Nations secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, strongly condemned the attacks, warning that the world cannot afford “a major confrontation in the Gulf region”.