The Tanker Attacks In the Gulf of Oman: Cui Bono?

by Willy B

Centcom video
            So who was really responsible for the attacks, yesterday morning, on the two tankers in the Gulf of Oman? Was they really the result of Iran lashing out in a frustrated response to U.S. sanctions, as both Israel and the US are claiming? Or were they perpetrated by parties who would like to see the US and Iran at war, as a couple of commentators I've seen has suggested?

                Late last night, US Central Command sent out a statement, with an account claiming that an IRGC boat had arrived to remove an unexploded limpet mine from the hull of the Kokuka Courageous. The statement included an attached video purporting to show the removal of the mine by crew members of the boat. The video is of such poor quality, however, that it's impossible to tell what's really going on, where the boat came from and who's on board.

                This morning, however, the ship operator of the  Kokuka Courageous was telling a different story. Yutaka Katada, president of Kokuka Sangyo Co, said during a press conference in Tokyo that at the time of the second attack on the ship (there were two reported attacks, the first one damaged the engine room and the second forced the crew to evacuate) the crew saw flying objects which he believes could be bullets (RPG’s maybe?), and denied possibility of mines or torpedoes because the damages were above the ship's waterline. He called reports of mine attack "false." The crew is aboard the destroyer USS Bainbridge, so presumably they told the same story to the US Navy.

            Last night’s Centcom statement followed statements by Mike Pompeo, yesterday, in which he said the U.S. assessment of Iran's involvement was based in part on intelligence as well as the expertise needed for the operation and also on Iran's alleged responsibility for the Fujairah attacks. "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. He provided no evidence, gave no specifics about any plans and took no questions.

            Pompeo noted that Abe had asked Iran to enter into talks with Washington but Tehran "rejected" the overture. "The supreme leader's government then insulted Japan by attacking a Japanese-owned oil tanker [this is a reference to the Kokua Courageous] just outside Iranian waters, threatening the lives of the entire crew, creating a maritime emergency," Pompeo claimed.

            As for what the US might do about it, the New York Times reports that yesterday morning, after the news of the attack began to break, there was a previously scheduled meeting in "the Tank" at the Pentagon, involving Shanahan, Dunford and other top officials to discuss threats in the Middle East and US troop levels. The Times reports that weeks prior Centcom chief Gen. McKenzie had actually asked for 20,000 troops but that Dunford expressed the fear that if that many were ordered to the Gulf, it would be provocative "and perhaps a sign that, despite denials, the Trump administration’s real goal was regime change." Prior to yesterday's meeting  Shanahan and Dunford were ready to make the case that Mr. Trump had told the Pentagon to reduce American forces and United States involvement in the current wars in the Middle East, and avoid direct confrontation with Iran, one senior administration official told the Times, However, the policy choices advocated by Pompeo and Bolton are having the opposite effect, the official said.

            Trump himself, during an appearance on Fox & Friends this morning, blamed Iran. “Iran did do it and you know they did it because you saw the boat,” he said, obviously referring to the Centcom video. Trump said the mine had “Iran written all over it.” But he said that Iran had been damaged since he took office, but was still a threat. "They're a nation of terror and they've changed a lot since I've been president, I can tell you."

            The British government, despite its posturing in support of the JCPOA, is fully onboard with the US explanation for the attacks as provided by Pompeo, yesterday. “This is deeply worrying and comes at a time of already huge tension. I have been in contact with (U.S. Secretary of State Mike) Pompeo and, while we will be making our own assessment soberly and carefully, our starting point is obviously to believe our U.S. allies,” Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a statement issued late yesterday. “We are taking this extremely seriously and my message to Iran is that if they have been involved it is a deeply unwise escalation which poses a real danger to the prospects of peace and stability in the region,” he added.

            But there’s reason to doubt, at least according to two presumably well informed commentators, that Iran would benefit from such attacks, especially when they’re engaged in intense diplomacy to try to keep the 2015 nuclear deal alive with its remaining signatories while at the same time, working to prevent a US attack.

            Julian Lee, an oil analyst who writes for Bloomberg argues that Iran really has little to gain from such attacks.  The potential benefits to Iran "are outweighed by the risks," Lee writes. "And even if Tehran isn’t responsible, it will still suffer the consequences." Regarding potential gains, he writes: "If Tehran is attacking tankers leaving the Persian Gulf – either directly, or through proxies – it sends a message that transit through the world's most important choke point for global oil flows is not safe without its consent. If Iran is pushed to the brink economically by sanctions, it will not go quietly. Other nations in the region will bear the cost of disruptions to their own oil exports, while America and its allies will have to cope with higher crude prices and disruptions to supplies."

            But. "There is another group that will benefit from the incident – the people who want to see the U.S. step up its campaign against Iran and move from an economic war to a military one," Lee continues. "There are plenty of those, both in the U.S. and among its allies in the Persian Gulf and wider Middle East regions."

            Lee also notes the timing, with Abe in Tehran, Iran having just released a U.S. resident from espionage charges and so forth. "This would seem very clumsy timing from a country seeing the first tangible signs of any easing of the crippling sanctions imposed by the Americans. But it is absolutely understandable if you’re someone whose ultimate goal is to derail any easing of tensions between the two nations, and to effect regime change in Tehran," he concludes. "Whoever is behind the attacks is no friend of Iran."

            The second commentary comes from what some might call an unlikely source, the Israeli Ha’aretz daily. Military analyst Zvi Bar'el raises the question of who benefits and he doesn't see that Iran would benefit by escalating the crisis with the US in this way. "In all previous attacks in the Gulf in recent weeks Iran was naturally taken to be the immediate suspect. After all, Iran had threatened that if it could now sell its oil in the Gulf, other countries would not be able to ship oil through it; Tehran threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, and in any case it's in the sights of the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel," Bar'el writes. "But this explanation is too easy. The Iranian regime is in the thrones of a major diplomatic struggle to persuade Europe and its allies, Russia and China, not to take the path of pulling out of the 2015 nuclear agreement. At the same time, Iran is sure that the United States is only looking for an excuse to attack it. Any violent initiative on Tehran's part could only make things worse and bring it close to a military conflict, which it must avoid."

            The implied question, it seems to me, is why would Iran sabotage it's own diplomacy in this way? The IRGC is responsible to the Supreme Leader who is meeting with the Japanese prime minister when it attacks a ship operating by a Japanese shipping company? It doesn't make a lot of sense to me, nor does it to Bar’el. "It seems that alongside its diplomatic efforts, Iran prefers to threaten to harm the nuclear deal itself, responding to Washington with the same token, rather than escalate the situation to a military clash," he writes. Bar'el points his finger at the Houthis whose attacks on the Saudis in retaliation for the ongoing Saudi bombing campaign are clearly becoming more sophisticated but the military effects of which seem to be far more psychological than kinetic, especially when compared to Saudi air strikes in Yemen.

            But really, if the Iranians were behind it (and Bar'el hints that there's no reliable intelligence yet identifying the attackers) it opens up a whole can of worms regarding how to respond. A retaliatory US attack on an Iranian military installation would lead to an Iranian response and the resulting tit-for-tat actions could suck the whole region into a war. "If sporadic, small-scale attacks raise such complex dilemmas, one can perhaps dream of an all-out war with Iran, but it is enough to look at the chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan to grow extremely cautious of the trajectory in which such dreams become a nightmare that lasts for decades," Bar'el concludes.



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33 Responses to The Tanker Attacks In the Gulf of Oman: Cui Bono?

  1. Isn’t it amazing how the Enemy-of-the-day always does exactly what you want it to do when you want it to?

  2. Bill H says:

    ” why would Iran sabotage it’s own diplomacy in this way?”
    For the same reason that Syria would employ a chemical attack when it is decisively winning in its war against the rebels.
    In case you do not detect the irony… It would not. Third parties with different issues certainly would, probably the same parties.

  3. Eric Newhill says:

    I really don’t know and it’s sad that we can’t trust what our government tells us. However, couldn’t Iran benefit from this by way of a demonstration of the chaos they could create in the oil markets should the US/Israel/Britain attack or otherwise attempt regime change? Just a little demonstration of power as a warning and a negotiation tactic?

  4. The other observation is that photography technology has once again reverted to blurry Brownie box camera standards. When Russian artillery is photographed in Ukraine — blurry indistinct B&W photos of something or other — when Russia aircraft are photographed in Syria — razor sharp colour photos.
    Must be some poorly understood law of physics at work.

  5. Fred says:

    In addition to being just what the neocons desire to spur military action it shows the complete inability of the current USN forces in the region to provide shipping security. If these risks are so great why aren’t tankers sailing in convoy with military escort just like WW2? Just what good are F35s and Stealth bombers in that role?

  6. Barbara Ann says:

    Zvi Bar’el’s piece is a good example of a problem much in evidence these days; leftist utopian delusions that order is the universally desirable state of the world that everyone is working towards. But nightmare wars that last for decades are exactly what the sponsors of these actions are looking for. Does he not see what is happening right next door in Syria?
    From rapture-obsessed Christian Zionists to PNAC folk sewing chaos simply to slow the rise of Asian powers, there are many for whom order on the Eurasian continent is anathema. It is not their sons and daughters on the front line. And right now these people hold the reigns of power in America.
    Cui bono? The Grim Reaper, as always. Whodunnit? Sadly without hard proof either way it just doesn’t matter, it’s done. The only thing that matters is stopping these madmen.

  7. The Beaver says:

    Don’t go too far.
    Beware of MBZ.

  8. Barbara Ann says:

    Anyone else notice the pan away between 36s and 39s in the grainy ‘mine removal’ video? The pan away seems unnecessary and it just happens to focus far enough back on the hull to show the hole seen in the photos.
    Of course if you did want to make a video of a small boat next to a tanker match the photos, both of which may or may not show events happening in the same timescale and may or may not have manufactured ‘mine’ or ‘hole’ artifacts, it would be useful to ‘inadvertently’ evidence their consistency.
    Then again, maybe there is another explanation for the damage:

  9. Linda says:

    My money is on Tel Aviv

  10. Ed says:

    Without any hard knowledge one way or the other, I would tend to agree with Linda- and what easier way to do so, than by employing Israeli special ops, e.g.- from one of its submarines- except that I’d also speculate the US (Pompeo, Bolton, the CIA, and our military) had prior knowledge, and were fully on board, given Pompeo’s rapid response blaming Iran.
    And what better act or timing to move closer to war, or to trash the possibility of any positive results of the Rouhani-Abe meeting, including that Iran be persuaded to release US prisoners in response to Trump’s request, or respond positively to whatever else Abe might have communicated to Rouhani on behalf of Trump, or that Japan be willing to improve trade and investment with Iran despite of U.S. sanctions, than, contemporaneous with the meeting, to initiate another false flag to be blamed on Iran.

  11. Christian J Chuba says:

    Can someone please buy the U.S. navy a few cell phones? That video is awful. I did’t see any mine. If anyone else did please give me the time offset.
    BTW even if the IRGC did remove a mine, since they were doing a rescue, removing an un-exploded mine would be the responsible thing to do. Granted it would be suspicious not to mention it but in any case I didn’t see anything, just a bunch of guys on a boat.

  12. DinanaLC says:

    I have been hearing small reports of unrest in Iran. Or am I wrong about that?
    My reaction was that maybe the U.S. is trying to take advantage of that social unrest in Iran–it it is a problem.
    But, then, I have no experience in foreign relations.
    (Sorry if my comment is naive.)

  13. I agree with all those here who smell something rotten with the USG line. The captain of the Japanese tanker said he was hit from the air not by a mine. A photo of one of the tankers shows two fairly small holes well above the waterline. Unless there’s a bouncing betty sea mine, I’m calling bullshit on that story. Looks like it could be small missiles from a drone like the ones we used to go after individual targets for years.

  14. OTOH, perhaps that tanker already off loaded much of its cargo so those holes could have been at the waterline. However that still doesn’t account for the captain’s account of an air attack.

  15. Not that it means anything, but the ones who would benefit most from the US being drawn into a Mid-East conflagration would be Russia and China. Not that they benefit directly, so much as it would distract from any further military moves against them.

  16. Jose says:

    Fake News CNN is reporting that the Iranians fired at a US drone prior to the hit on the tanker, it is possible that the Iranians accidentally hit the tanker.
    Tanker captain is Japanese and claims the attack came from the air and creates a perfect narrative for the NeoCons.

  17. JamesT says:

    Hey Japan – nice oil tankers you got there. Be a shame if something happened to them. Maybe you want to stop meeting with Iran.

  18. robt willmann says:

    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement of yesterday about the attack on a petroleum tanker(s) in the Gulf of Oman; he walked to the podium, read the prepared remarks, and walked off–
    Patrick Armstrong,
    When I saw the fuzzy video of the boat and ship, it made clear that the propaganda campaign is underway to gin up action against Iran. The U.S. has sensors and optics that can count the hairs on the back of a mouse from high up in the air, but this cheesy video is pushed out on the public. Plus, if that is an Iranian IRGC boat, there are shrimp boats on the Texas coast that are more robust than that.
    The Beaver,
    Here is a brief article by David Hearst of the Middle East Eye about Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ), the ‘crown prince’ of Abu Dhabi, and his policies–

  19. PRC90 says:

    The only ‘fact’ that we know is that Pompeo is blaming Iran for this, and if you can’t trust Pompeo then who can you trust ?

  20. ‪The distress call was at 6 a.m. while the attacked Japanese tanker was sailing South/South-East, from Sea of Oman towards the Indian Ocean. However the shadow of the boatmen (@30 sec. time tag‬‪) is consistent with a sunset as opposed to a sunrise positioning! = Poorly falsified record by White Helmets mutated into White Frogmen‬

  21. Amir says:

    Iran rescues the 11 Russian crew:
    Iran rescued all the crew from both tankers:
    Not sure whether Pidgin English version of BBC is meant as humor:
    A search via will give you a different picture.

  22. OTOH, MoA makes an argument that it actually could be Iran sending a message, not for Washington which is deaf, but to others, of just what Iran could do if attacked.

  23. Mark Logan says:

    The reports that the boat was removing a mine seem unlikely, the boat appears to be right next to one of the holes in the ship. There would be no unexploded ordinance there. Below is a shot of the ship showing both holes and the grainy shot of a boat supposedly removing a mine. Note the white “T” marker visible in the forward hole in both shots, of the ship alone and the small boat. The smudge on the paint is also visible in both. That small boat was inspecting damage, bet the farm.
    We are probably being gamed there.
    However, reports that both ships hit had the crews taken off by other vessels, and both vessels say they were surrounded by Iranian patrol boats who demanded they pass the rescued crews to them seems very odd. Why would the Iranians do that?? I’m sure we are being gamed by the neo-cons, but can’t dismiss the possibility IRG has also done something exceptionally stupid.

  24. Flavius says:

    We are about to learn something about the Donald’s ability to exercise good judgement. It is true that his judgement in assembling his National Security/ Foreign Policy staffing has been demonstrably poor and at serious odds with the policy pronouncements that got him elected. Prospects for his hearing prudent advice are therefore dim and he has only himself to blame in this regard. One may hope, however, that an instinct for political survival continues to operate in the cloud of Beltway bullshit he has plunged himself into and he manages to say no and avoid catastrophe, if not for the greater good, at least to save his own political ass. For if he thinks that his political supporters have a bigger appetite now for his engaging us in another Middle Eastern war than back when he was running for President, he is a dope. This would apply triply when it turns out, as it inevitably will, that the casus belli was just another concocted mirage. I hope I am not wrong in assuming that the Trump base, for want of a better word, of 2 1/2 years ago will not be so damnably stupid to go over the cliff with a judas goat. He has blustered himself into the nasty predicament where he’s made himself a sitting target for false flag provocations and his resources for sorting out the true from the false consist of two born warmongers and Javanka. Not good. He nevertheless should remember that for him it’s nut cutting time.

  25. Bp says:

    I was never in the navy, but if I was going to attach a limpet mine to a ship should I not be inclined to place it under the water-line rather than above?

  26. Anonymous says:

    The captain of a nearby ship was doing some clay pigeon shooting when the machine malfuntioned and hit the tankers.Hence the hijack attempt in the video was ended hours later by the “flying objects”.On the stennis they play tennis.better watch for those balls.

  27. Harry says:

    “I agree with all those here who smell something rotten with the USG line. The captain of the Japanese tanker said he was hit from the air not by a mine. A photo of one of the tankers shows two fairly small holes well above the waterline. Unless there’s a bouncing betty sea mine, I’m calling bullshit on that story. Looks like it could be small missiles from a drone like the ones we used to go after individual targets for years.”
    It seems to me that Iran does have something to gain. If they used small drones of the sort used to attack the Russian base in Latakia, then they can probably use many hundreds of them to arbitrarily close the Straights to commercial shipping. With this weapon, the US Navy will struggle to stop the Iranians. They do not have to announce they are doing it to the world.
    The US knows, but I suggest they would rather not have to confront the question of what is to be done about it. Which is why they say it was Iran, but dispute that it was drones.
    I wonder what the US response is?

  28. Mark Logan says:

    I got that wrong, there was only one hole, the other dark spot in the pictures is claimed to be the mine which was supposedly removed.
    Mea culpa.

  29. Johnb says:

    Quote “Prior to yesterday’s meeting Shanahan and Dunford were ready to make the case that Mr. Trump had told the Pentagon to reduce American forces and United States involvement in the current wars in the Middle East, and avoid direct confrontation with Iran, one senior administration official told the Times, However, the policy choices advocated by Pompeo and Bolton are having the opposite effect, the official said.”
    I suspect the understanding lies in the above quote. There is a pattern here, a DJT tweet of withdrawal from Syria is turned by visuals of children killed and injured in a chemical attack, Diplomatic expulsions on being shown visuals of children and ducks. An apparently desired policy goal being turned by being shown visuals with commentary. A tension within DJT of ‘instinct’ as to what is needed and ‘seeing with my own eyes’.

  30. Procopius says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen the American military release video without a dtae-time stamp, either. I could be mistaken.

  31. Procopius says:

    I was thinking Mujaheddin E Khalk, the Iranian terrorist group that pays John Bolton. Oh, sorry, they pay a lot of American congressmen and senators and they’ve been removed from the Secretary of States list of terrorist organizations. Other than them there’s Betsy deVos’s brother, Wossisname Prince and whatever contractor he’s running now. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been getting a lot of money from KSA and UAE the last couple of years, too, but I don’t know if they have the expertise. The Houthis used to beat them up before KSA attacked.

  32. Peter AU says:

    The first short segment of the pentagon video is worth watching closely.
    A lot of people on the front deck of the iranian boat. Some wearing lifejackets, others are not. Those wearing lifejackets are the tanker crew. The first seven second segment shows the last of the tanker crew being helped onto the deck of the Iranian boat.
    Rt initially reported Iran had rescued the crews of both tankers.
    The pentagon report stated US navy had picked up the Kokuka Courageous crew approx five hours after the incident from a Dutch boat.
    The Iranian boat most likely rescued the Kokuka crew then transferred them to the Dutch boat which then transferred them to the US destroyer.

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