The U.S. released a video that appears to show Iran’s Revolutionary Guard attacking an oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday.
Explosions crippled two oil tankers on Thursday morning in what the U.S. has called “unprovoked attacks.” Both the Japanese-registered Kokuka Courageous and the Norwegian-owned MT Front Altair were quickly evacuated, with the U.S. Navy rushing to the help the vessels in the Strait of Hormuz, a key route for oil for the region.
The Kokuka caught fire, sending plumes of black smoke into the sky. In response to the attack, the price of oil spiked by as much as 5 percent.
Initially, Iran said the timing of the attacks were “suspicious,” given they came hours after a meeting between Iran’s supreme leader and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. But the U.S. soon pointed the finger at Tehran.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Thursday that Iran was behind the attack, citing intelligence, as well as the experience needed to conduct the operation. At that time, Pompeo provided no evidence to back up his claims, and didn’t respond to any questions.
“Taken as a whole, these unprovoked attacks present a clear threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation and an unacceptable campaign of escalating tension by Iran,” Pompeo said.
Iran hit back, denying the allegations and accusing Washington of “warmongering.”
“The U.S. economic war and terrorism against the Iranian people as well as its massive military presence in the region have been and continue to be the main sources of insecurity and instability in the wider Persian Gulf region and the most significant threat to its peace and security,” Tehran said in a statement to the UN Security Council.
But soon after that statement was issued, the U.S. released still images showing limpet mines attached to the Kokuka and black-and-white video footage appearing to show a Revolutionary Guard patrol boat pulling up alongside the ship and removing unexploded mines.
According to a timeline released by Central Command, the first distress signals from the ships were received just after 6 a.m. local time Thursday. It wasn’t until 4 p.m. that afternoon that the Iranian vessel was observed approaching the Kokuka to remove the mines.
But the situation was confounded by an account from the sailors on the Kokuka, who said they saw “flying objects” before the attack, which contradicts the U.S. military’s account.
Tensions have escalated in the Middle East after Iran announced its plan to pull out of the 2015 nuclear accord, a move that came after Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal last year. Trump exacerbated the situation when he announced he would impose crippling financial sanctions on any country buying oil from Iran.
The country’s oil production has fallen to 400,000 barrels in May, compared to 2.5 million in April last year.
Some worry that the latest incident, which comes a month after similar attacks against four other tankers in the Gulf, could spark a military conflict in the region. Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesperson for Central Command, sought to tamp down those worries.
“The U.S. and the international community stand ready to defend our interests, including the freedom of navigation,” he said Friday. “The United States has no interest in engaging in a new conflict in the Middle East. However, we will defend our interests.”
Cover: An oil tanker is on fire in the sea of Oman, Thursday, June 13, 2019. Two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz were reportedly attacked on Thursday, an assault that left one ablaze and adrift as sailors were evacuated from both vessels and the U.S. Navy rushed to assist amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran. (AP Photo/ISNA)