The Trump administration says that Iran attacked two ships in the Gulf of Oman.
But Japanese government officials have expressed skepticism. Japan Today reports:
“The U.S. explanation has not helped us go beyond speculation,” said one senior government official.
A source close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “These [alleged pieces of evidence provided by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo] are not definite proof that it’s Iran.”
“Even if it’s the United States that makes the assertion, we cannot simply say we believe it,” he said.
If having expertise sophisticated enough to conduct the attack could be a reason to conclude that the attacker was Iran, “That would apply to the United States and Israel as well,” said a source at the Foreign Ministry.
Newsweek notes that American intelligence officials are also skeptical:
Independent intelligence experts say the video provides no proof whatsoever of Iran’s alleged responsibility for the attacks ….
“One has to keep asking the question, well, if it isn’t Iran, who the hell is it?” Anthony Cordesman, a strategic analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies [Cordesman is former national security assistant to Senator John McCain of the Senate Armed Services Committee, civilian assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense, former director of intelligence assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and winner of the Department of Defense Distinguished Civilian Service Award], told Newsweek. “You come up with the possibility that ISIS carried out the attack as trigger to turn two enemies — the United States and Iran — against each other. Or you’re watching Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates create an incident that they can then use to increase the pressure on Iran.”
Ayham Kamel, the head of Middle East analysis for the Eurasia Group, an international risk analysis consultancy, said recent attacks by Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels on Saudi oil installations are now threatening the kingdom’s core security concerns.
“The Saudis are alarmed,” Kamel told a conference call Friday. “Their response is going to be to try to pressure the U.S. into action.”
Others have pointed to the possibility that Thursday’s attacks, as well as the attacks on four tankers in the same waters a month ago, were so-called “false-flag” operations [background] carried out by Israel, another arch foe of Iran, to make Iran appear responsible. And some observers have even suggested the attacks may have been directed by hawkish members of the Trump administration as a pretext to launch military operations against Iran.
“The U.S. track record on ginning up evidence for war is not good,” William Church, a former military investigator for the United Nations Security Council. “It lied in the run-up to the Vietnam war [by inventing a North Vietnamese attack on a U.S. Navy ship in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964], and it lied about WMD [weapons of mass destruction] before the Iraq war. So when these tanker attacks happen, we have to ask why and what’s the motivation in addition to examining the evidence.”
With regard to the video, Church said much more needs to be known before any conclusions about Iranian responsibility can be drawn. “The video means nothing,” he told Newsweek. “We need to know how it was taken, when was it taken, what was the total sequence. Then you’d have to talk to the people in the video to get their view of what happened. I would check to see if the video was doctored. You would need to do everything that a trained investigator would do.”
Church, who also served for many years as a U.S. intelligence officer in the Middle East and East Africa, acknowledges that the Iranians have the Gashti-class patrol boats. But he notes that Iranian Navy, not the Revolutionary Guards, have the closest naval base to the site of the attacks, suggesting a possible discrepancy in the U.S. Central Command’s description of the Iranian craft’s affiliation. He also points out that the video does not make it clear which of the two stricken tankers is depicted.
In addition, Church said it’s not clear whether limpet mines caused the explosions in either tanker. Limpet mines are usually attached by divers to the hulls of ships at the water line. There have been some reports that crew members aboard one of the tankers saw a flying object, possibly a drone, heading toward the ship before the explosion occurred, raising the possibility that a drone delivered the explosives.
“Drones and limpet mines are a dime-a-dozen out there in the Middle East,” he said. “Everybody has them. So we need to know a lot more that what the video shows us.”
Church also says it’s not clear why, in the latest attacks, Iran would target tanks belonging to Norway and Japan, two of Iran’s best oil customers. “They’ve been shipping to these countries for decades,” he said. “Why would they do that?” Church says an independent investigation of the attacks is needed to determine responsibility.
Germany’s foreign minister said:
The video is not enough. We can understand what is being shown, sure, but to make a final assessment, this is not enough for me.
Britain’s opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said more “credible evidence” was needed to support Trump’s allegation:
Without credible evidence about the tanker attacks, the government’s rhetoric will only increase the threat of war.
The UK’s shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, said that “independent evidence” should be established over who was responsible for the attacks.
Chris Williamson, a member of the British parliament with the UK’s Labour Party, said:
Whether it’s an attempt to remove Venezuela’s democratic government or regime change in Iran, the USA is causing global instability in furtherance of its imperial interests. We must reject the lies being used by the Trump admin to gain public support for their disastrous plans.
An EU spokeswoman also refused to blame Iran at this time, stating merely:
We are gathering more information and we are assessing the situation.
Even Elliot Higgins of Bellingcat – who is famously pro-war against regimes which the U.S. has targeted, like Syria – writes in the New York Times:
Nothing presented as evidence proves that the object was placed there by the Iranians. The video shows only that the Iranians chose to remove it for an as yet unknown reason.
This is especially important in light of a statement by Yukata Katada, the president of the operator of the Kokuka Courageous, that the crew had reported that the ship was attacked by a “flying object.” Mr. Katada added, “I do not think there was a time bomb or an object attached to the side of the ship.”
While we cannot be sure whether this is a Gulf of Tonkin-style incident, we can say for certain this is not the slam-dunk evidence that some would like to claim it is. In the escalating conflict between the United States and Iran we have to work on all the information available, not just what one side presents.
Postscript: It is also interesting that the main people claiming that Iran was behind the attacks have admitted to being very open to lying: