In a perhaps positive sign that could slow the attempts of hawks within the administration to push for war over Thursday's mysterious attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, US Central Command issued a statement just hours after Pompeo officially blamed Tehran, saying in a CENTCOM press release that “a war with Iran is not in our strategic interest, nor in the best interest of the international community.”
The statement further called for a formal UN investigation into the incident, something for which there's already international momentum. Iran has "categorically" denied having anything to do with the attack, saying through FM Zarif “Suspicious doesn’t begin to describe what likely transpired”.
The entire bizarre event had immediately evoked unusual levels of public skepticism from media pundits to social media users to even CNN.
Iran’s permanent mission to the UN said on Thursday evening that it “categorically rejects the U.S. unfounded claim with regard to 13 June oil tanker incidents and condemns it in the strongest possible terms,” according to Bloomberg.
US Central Command spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Earl Brown said in the CENTCOM statement: “The U.S. and our regional partners are assisting in the response to attacks in the Gulf of Oman. The U.S. and the international community stand ready to defend our interests, including freedom of navigation.”
Crucially, the statement continued: “We have no interest in engaging in a new conflict in the Middle East,” and added, “We will defend our interests, but a war with Iran is not in our strategic interest, nor in the best interest of the international community.”
And further interesting is that the administration is claiming possession of photographic and video evidence that the massive fires aboard the tankers, which resulted in the USS Bainbridge initiating an emergency rescue of at least 21 mariners from one of the tankers, were the result of mines placed on the vessels. According to Bloomberg:
Senior administration officials said that at least one of the ships was attacked by mines. In a briefing with reporters, they showed a photo of a tanker, the Courageous, with a hole in its side caused by a mine that exploded, they said, and an undetonated mine lodged inside.
The officials said they didn’t know for sure whether the mines were Iranian. The U.S. concluded that Iran was responsible for the attacks based on intelligence sources and the absence of any better explanation, the officials said. They declined to elaborate on the intelligence sources.
Images and video now being released by @CENTCOM showing what it says is a likely unexploded limpet mine attached to the hull of the Japanese-owned chemical tanker Kokura Courageous. pic.twitter.com/Mzpdm7k0Mc— Steve Herman (@W7VOA) June 14, 2019
Ironically, though it was the US side that pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), US officials further said Iran's motive was "to escalate the conflict" with Washington because "it’s not interested in discussions with the U.S.," according to the Bloomberg report.
CBS has the following detail concerning video evidence pointing to an attack operation involving mines:
A U.S. defense official told CBS News that the U.S. has video of a small boat coming alongside one of the tankers that was attacked and removing an unexploded "limpet" mine — a type of explosive that can be stuck manually to the side of a vessel. It is the same type of weapon U.S. officials say Iran used to attack four oil tankers off the nearby Emirati port of Fujairah last month.
But is this what the grainy footage actually shows? It's anything but clear just what is going on in the newly released CENTCOM footage:
Just in: Pentagon video of what it says is an Iranian boat removing an unexploded mine from one of the attacked oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. pic.twitter.com/XSxIPcyV6Q— Philip Crowther (@PhilipinDC) June 14, 2019
US officials also told CNN that the video of the mine involved Japanese-owned chemical tanker Kokura Courageous, and that the "small boat" belonged to the Iranian navy.
The CNN report claims Iran's navy was observed removing an unexploded mine, suggesting early statements that Iran was actually involved in rescue efforts could be true, though the exact nature of just what the purported video proves remains unclear:
The United States has video and photos that show an Iranian navy boat removing an unexploded mine attached to the hull of the Japanese-owned chemical tanker Kokura Courageous, four US officials tell CNN.
The anonymous US sources which spoke to CNN suggested the Iranians were actually "removing evidence" and not engaged in a rescue attempt, as the Iranians previously stated:
The official said the imagery shows a person on board that small boat grabbing the unexploded mine.
The boat made the move even after the USS Bainbridge, as well as a US drone and P-8 aircraft, had been on the scene for four hours. US defense officials believe that the Iranians were seeking to recover evidence of their involvement in the attack.
Meanwhile, the question of custody over evidence so near Iran's territorial waters in the Strait of Hormuz will likely quickly prove contentious.
Remember the Maine, Operation Northwoods, Gulf of Tonkin, Kuwaiti incubator babies, Saddam’s WMD’s, Qaddafi soldiers’ Viagra spree, Last Messages From Aleppo, Douma, burning aid on Colombia-Venezuela bridge, and now today’s attacks in the Gulf of Oman. https://t.co/jnoIcXxUAS— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) June 13, 2019
The latest reports suggest the tanker Front Altair is in danger of sinking, while the Japanese owned Panama-flagged Kokuka Courageous is said to be drifting into Iranian territorial waters, which could create a conflict over the vessel's recovery with the US, which will no doubt want to have control over all available evidence.