US Blames Iran For Tanker Attacks, Says Tehran “Trying To Interrupt Flow Of Oil”


Update 7: Ahead of comments to the UN Security Council (which will presumably block any action, with China and Russia backing Iran), unnamed officials are sharing with reporters some of what the US intends to say:


Earlier, the Saudis presented a letter to the council claiming that the Iran-backed Houthis had obtained special weapons training and were responsible for Wednesday’s attack on Abha airport.

Pompeo said earlier that the US was in possession of “intelligence” suggesting Iran is behind the attack…but he neglected to offer any poof.

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Update 6: And there it is…

The Trump Administration has officially concluded that Iran is responsible for Thursday’s attacks, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday during a press briefing.

The secretary of state and longtime Iran hawk said Iran’s “unprovoked” attacks are part of a campaign to escalate tension in the region and disrupt the flow of the international oil trade (if we can’t sell our oil, nobody can, would appear to be the logic). He also said that Tehran rejected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s outreach for diplomacy.

Here’s an abridged version of Pompeo’s statement, courtesy of CNN:

“It is the assessment by the United States government that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks that occurred in the Gulf of Oman today,” Pompeo told reporters at the US State Department.

“This assessment is based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.”

The US is planning to raise concerns about Iran at the UN Security Council, Pompeo said, which is planning to meet to discuss the attacks at 4 pm ET. The US has already presented evidence to the security council that Iran was behind the last round of tanker attacks. The UN has been somewhat more measured in its approach to the attacks. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres denounced Thursday’s incidents at a Security Council meeting, saying: “I strongly condemn any attack against civilian incidents,” before adding that “facts must be established and responsibilities clarified.”

He warned that the world can’t afford “a major confrontation” in the Gulf, Al Jazeera.

Oil spiked on the headline…


…but stocks are sliding.


The International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (better known as Intertanko) has released a statement on Thursday’s attack: The two tankers were hit “at or below the waterline, in close proximity to the engine room while underway.” “These appear to be well planned and coordinated attacks,” Intertanko added. Which would support the thesis that a state actor is responsible.

Earlier, CNN reported that the crew of the USS Bainbridge reported that they saw an unexploded limpet mine on the side of one of the ships attacked in the Gulf of Oman.

A limpet mine is type of a mine that is attached to a ship’s hull using magnets. They were also believed to have been deployed in May during the attacks on four ships off the coast of the UAE.

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Update 5: A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition supporting Yemen’s government in the country’s civil war has come out and blamed Iran for Thursday’s attack, saying they believe they can connect it to a similar tanker bombing last year in the Red Sea committed by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels. The spokesman called the attack a “major escalation”, and reiterated in what sounded to us like a thinly veiled threat that Saudi Arabia has the capacity to protect its vital institutions.

You may remember that the Houthis have over the last year repeatedly fired missiles (with mixed success) at Saudi oil fields and even came close to successfully bombing a royal palace.

Earlier, over in the UK, a spokesperson for the government called the attack on civilian oil tankers “completely unacceptable” and said the UK was ready to assist in the rescue effort and investigation.

Meanwhile, senior officials from the US and UAE have attributed the attack to a “state actor,” though they neglected to explicitly name Iran.

All this is happening before the investigation into the attacks has even begun. And BBG’s Javier Blas pointed out that should Iran be found responsible, it would be a strange turn of events since the Front Altair is owned by John Frederiksen, the owner of the Frontline Tanker company, who moved oil for Iran during the “tanker war” with Iraq….

Continue reading at: Zerohedge

Iran FM: “Suspicious Doesn’t Begin To Describe” Attack On Japanese Tanker During Abe’s State Visit

With the words “Gulf of Tonkin” trending on Twitter this morning at a moment that a senior American defense official told CBS News that “it’s highly likely Iran caused these attacks,” it appears the general public is not even close to buying the claim that Iran attacked two tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz this morning. 

Iranian Foreign Minister Javid Zarif pointed out a crucial obvious factor not likely to make it across the US mainstream airwaves or headlines:

“Suspicious doesn’t begin to describe what likely transpired this morning,” he said.

This especially crucial according to his comments — given that one of the vessels is a Japanese tanker supposedly “attacked” by Iran in the middle of a visit to Tehran by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Japan’s Trade Ministry later confirmed that one of the ships hit Thursday morning was carrying “Japan-related cargo.”

Via The Japan News/The Yomiuri Shimbun: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends a joint press conference with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani following their summit meeting in Tehran on Wednesday.

The details of the Japanese tanker are described by the AP as follows:

The Japanese operator of a tanker that was damaged in a suspected attack in the Strait of Hormuz says all of its crewmembers are now safe onboard a U.S. Navy warship.

The chemical tanker Kokuka Courageous, operated by Kokuka Sangyo Co., was apparently attacked as it was passing through the Strait of Hormuz toward Singapore and Thailand destinations to deliver methanol.

Currently Iran is desperately attempting to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal with other world powers at a time its economy is being crushed under US sanctions, and Wednesday’s visit by the Japanese PM appears an attempt to mediate. The tanker incident and emergency nature of what transpired “eclipsed the Abe visit, an unexpected bit of outreach to Iran by someone Trump calls a friend,” as CNN noted.

The Panama-flagged and Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous was one of the two vessels reportedly attacked, possibly by torpedo fire, mine, or underwater drone, in the Gulf of Oman. 

Speaking of CNN, we’ve really entered new territory when even it’s pundits are quickly raising the question of a ‘false flag’ in our midst:

Iran doesn’t appear to have a lot to gain. Say what you like about Tehran’s malicious intent, these incidents heighten the global drumbeat for greater isolation and boosts those who seek to apply military pressure on Iran. Its economy is in a bad condition. Before President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the JCPOA (colloquially known as the Iran nuclear deal), Tehran was at its peak of regional influence. With diminished economic resources, its potency is likely to wane.

The incidents also came in the middle of a visit to Tehran by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, apparently trying to mediate over the nuclear deal (although Tokyo says he’s not an envoy for Washington). The apparent attacks eclipsed the Abe visit, an unexpected bit of outreach to Iran by someone Trump calls a friend.

And quite surprisingly, more from CNN:

Iran’s chief moderate, Foreign Minister Javid Zarif, was right to point out that “suspicious doesn’t begin to describe what likely transpired this morning.” When one party is so easily blamed, it is likely blameless, or unfathomably stupid.

Meanwhile anonymous US officials are blaming a “state actor” in what is very likely just the beginning of a hail of evidence-free accusations and threats to follow.

And separately, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition supporting Yemen’s government in the country’s civil war has come out and blamed Iran for Thursday’s attack, saying they believe they can connect it to a similar tanker bombing last year in the Red Sea committed by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The spokesman called the attack a “major escalation”, and reiterated in what sounded to us like a thinly veiled threat that Saudi Arabia has the capacity to protect its vital institutions.

Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP Photo

It will be interesting to see what Japan officially concludes when it releases further statements and perhaps more details of its findings on the incident. On Wednesday, just before the attack, Japan’s Abe told Rouhani that “no one wants a military clash” while speaking of the US so-called “maximum pressure” campaign and ratcheting tensions with Washington. Abe said at a press conference while standing beside Rouhani: “I decided to visit Iran as part of my efforts to ease tensions.”

PM Abe also called on Tehran’s leaders to play a “constructive role” toward stabilizing the region and pursuing a calming of tensions.

And following this positive meeting with Japan’s head of state that went in Iran’s favor, what did Iran decide to do a mere hours later?… Attack a nearby Japanese tanker of course!

False Flag? Iran Has Little To Gain From Oman Tanker Attacks

Gulf of Tonkin 2.0? Regardless of whether Iran is responsible for damage to vessels in the Sea of Oman, Bloomberg’s Julian Lee explains, it will still get the blame – and suffer the fallout.

Saudis get i) higher oil price ii) US to attack Iran

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Via Bloomberg,

Two oil tankers have been damaged in a suspected attack in the waters between the United Arab Emirates and Iran as they were leaving the Persian Gulf. This is the second incident in four weeks, and raises the question of who gains what from them.

Fingers will certainly be pointed at Iran as the mastermind behind these events. But the potential benefits to the Persian Gulf nation are outweighed by the risks. And even if Tehran isn’t responsible, it will still suffer the consequences.

The first tanker to report a problem was the Front Altair. It was reported to be carrying 75,000 tons of naphtha, loaded in Abu Dhabi, to Japan, although it was signaling a destination of Kaosiung in Taiwan when it was damaged. The second vessel was the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous, which was sailing from Saudi Arabia to Singapore with a cargo of methanol.

A person who’s heard local radio transmissions between ships in the region told Bloomberg that a torpedo attack is suspected to have caused an explosion and fire on the Front Altair. The managers of the Kokuka Courageous said in a statement that “the 21 crew of the vessel abandoned ship after the incident on board which resulted in damage to the ship’s hull starboard side.”

Choke Point

The Strait of Hormuz is the world’s most important oil choke point, with about 40% of seaborne trade passing through it.

Source: bne IntelliNews

Who gains from these attacks?

The obvious answer is Iran. 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.

Not since 2005 have the world’s insurers considered shipping in the Persian Gulf so dangerous for oil tankers. Nevertheless, we are still far from the level of tension that existed during the so-called Tanker War of the 1980s, when 451 vessels (259 of them oil or refined petroleum product tankers) suffered some sort of attack in the region, according to a report from the U.S. Naval Institute. The incidents took place during the Iran-Iraq war, and the culprits were forces from both countries.

Then, the U.S. navy resorted to escorting vessels through the Persian Gulf. That would be an expensive operation to repeat and would tie up a large part of the U.S. and allied fleets in the region. It would also raise the cost of the U.S. drive against Iran, which began with President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018.

Risk Premium

Brent prices spiked after reports of attacks on tankers leaving the Persian Gulf

Source: Bloomberg

Brent crude was up by as much as 4.45% on Thursday, shortly after news of the attacks broke, although it has since lost some of those gains. The nation’s oil exports have been seriously curtailed by U.S. sanctions, and higher prices are its only route to increasing revenues. But the benefits are likely to be relatively small, given the dwindling volumes and steep discounts that the country probably has to offer to shift its oil.

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. There are plenty of those, both in the U.S. and among its allies in the Persian Gulf and wider Middle East regions.

The timing of the attacks also raises questions.

They come as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is visiting Tehran, with the blessing of President Trump. On Wednesday Abe urged Tehran to avoid conflict at all costs and pledged to do his utmost to ease tensions. The tankers damaged on Thursday were carrying cargoes related to Japan,  Hiroshige Seko, minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, said on the ministry’s Twitter feed.

A day earlier, Iran freed a U.S. resident imprisoned on espionage charges.

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.

Whoever is behind the attacks is no friend of Iran.

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