Oil tanker attacks: US’ latest grouse against Iran, explained

In another escalation of US-Iran tensions, the Trump administration has blamed Iran for carrying out attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. The US believes that the attacks were carried out by limpet mines, “hallmarks” of the mines used by the Iranian military, say US officials. Iran has denied any involvement in the attack and has instead implied that it is being deliberately framed.

US Naval Forces Central Command Commanding Officer Sean Kido said, “The limpet mine that was used in the attack is distinguishable and bears a striking resemblance to Iranian mines that have already been publicly displayed in Iranian military parades.”

The US Navy also furnished debris and videos showing Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps removing an unexploded mine from another ship, according to Al Jazeera.

Saudi Arabia has also blamed Iran for the attack and said it “does not want a war in the region” but “will not hesitate in dealing with any threat to its people, sovereignty, and vital interests”.

However, Iran has consistently denied carrying out the attacks, said the allegations were “a lie”, raising doubts about the authenticity of the evidence US has presented.

What happened in the Gulf of Oman?

On June 13, two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman were hit with explosives. The Front Altair tanker flagged (officially registered as a vessel) in the Marshall Islands and Kokua Courageous tanker flagged in Panama were hit while sailing through the Strait of Hormuz—only 21 nautical miles from Iran’s coast.

Front Altair, chartered by Taiwanese oil refiner CPC, was ferrying 75,000 tonnes of naphtha, a type of oil, from the United Arab Emirates to Taiwan, reports the BBC. The tanker caught fire but did not sink. The crew was also evacuated.

Kokua Courageous was also hit and suffered an engine fire that was extinguished. Its crew was evacuated as a precaution but then returned to the ship and docked it in UAE.

Matters were further complicated because, when the attacks took place, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was meeting with Iranian officials as a mediator between them and the US. The attacked tankers were also carrying “Japan-related” cargo.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted a condemnation of the attack.

He said, “Reported attacks on Japan-related tankers occurred while PM Shinzo Abe was meeting with Ayatollah Khamenei for extensive and friendly talks. Suspicious doesn’t even begin to describe what likely transpired this morning.”

The price of oil also increased by 3% following the attack.

Frontline said the explosion could be attributed to mechanical failure or human error, but it was not ruling out a foreign attack.

The Kokua crew did not immediately specify the cause of the damage, but President of Kokua Sangyo, the company that owns the tanker, said a “flying object” hit the tanker’s side. When a US military crew investigated, it found an unexploded limpet mine.

However, Al Jazeera reported that the damage done to Kokua Courageous is “not consistent with an external flying object hitting the ship”.

Iran cries foul

Zarif later tweeted that the US jumping “to make allegations against Iran without a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence” was proof that Iran and its relationship with Japan was being diplomatically sabotaged in an attempt at “economic terrorism”.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei also said the Trump administration is trying to create regime change in Iran and undermine his government.

“What Trump says, that he is not after regime change, is a lie. For, if he could do so, he would. However, he is not capable of doing it,” said Khamenei.

When Trump pulled the trigger

Tensions between the US and Iran have been escalating ever since Trump withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal 2015.

Signing the deal with the Obama administration, China, Russia, UK, France, Germany, and the EU at large, Iran agreed to get rid of centrifuges and nuclear bomb-making apparatus in exchange for lifting of sanctions on its trade, technology, finance, and energy industries.

Iran was expecting to recover the $160 billion it lost to the sanctions and even agreed to regular, on-ground monitoring by international officials.

Saudi Arabia and Israel were against the deal and, eventually in 2018, Trump also withdrew the US from it. Trump said the nuclear deal was “terrible” for American interests because it “does nothing but make Iran rich”.

Trump re-imposed sanctions on Iranian oil exports and warned ally countries India, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, Italy, Greece, and Taiwan with sanctions if they did not stop importing from Iran.

Khamenei said that while Iranian policy prohibits the use or manufacture of nuclear weapons, the US is in no position to dictate nuclearisation policy.

‘The United State has no competency, by any means, to speak out about what country should or shouldn’t have nuclear weapons. Because the United States possesses arsenals of thousands of nuclear warheads,” said Khamenei.

He also does not believe that Trump is willing to engage in “genuine talks”. President Hassan Rouhani also said Iran will not negotiate with the US under pressure.

Unless the Trump administration and Iranian leadership are able to at least engage in dialogue, tensions will continue to rise in the Middle East. The nature of threats made by the US and Iran is also highly charged and military in nature; if either or both countries follow through on them, the middle eastern region could become embroiled in a war and be destabilised for years to come.

Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius

Donald Trumpoil tanker attackUS-Iran