Iran’s foreign minister on Friday accused the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia of a plot to “sabotage diplomacy” after attacks on two tankers in the Persian Gulf, and appeared to insinuate that those countries were behind the assaults.
Mohammad Javad Zarif in an early Friday morning tweet said the fact that “the US immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran — [without] a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence — only makes it abundantly clear that the #B_Team is moving to a #PlanB: Sabotage diplomacy…and cover up its #EconomicTerrorism against Iran.”
Zarif regularly uses the term “B Team” to refer to a group of leaders he claims are engaged in warmongering against Iran: US National Security Adviser John Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (or Bolton, Bibi, Bin Salman and Bin Zayed — hence the “B” moniker).
Also Friday Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said US actions presented a serious threat to global and regional stability, speaking at an international forum in Kyrgyzstan.
“The US government over the last two years, violating all the international structures and rules and using its economic, financial and military resources, has taken an aggressive approach and presents a serious risk to stability in the region and the world,” Rouhani said, in translated comments, at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a Eurasian security alliance.
Meanwhile the United Arab Emirates’ Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said Friday the attack was “a worrying development and a dangerous escalation.”
He said Zarif’s “credibility [is] diminishing… Public relations is no real substitute to constructive policies. De-escalation in [the] current situation requires wise actions, not empty words.”
The attacks came as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Iran seeking to defuse tensions between Washington and the Islamic republic.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday blamed Iran for the attacks and the US military released footage it said showed Iranian forces removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the ships.
That the US immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran—w/o a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence—only makes it abundantly clear that the #B_Team is moving to a #PlanB: Sabotage diplomacy—including by @AbeShinzo—and cover up its #EconomicTerrorism against Iran.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) June 14, 2019
A spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry called Pompeo’s accusations “alarming,” according to a Reuters report.
“We are in charge of maintaining security of the Strait and we rescued the crew of those attacked tankers in the shortest possible time,” spokesman Abbas Mousavi insisted.
Pompeo said there was strong evidence of Iran’s culpability “based on the intelligence, the weapons used, the level expertise needed to execute the operation” and only Iran in the region had the ability to undertake such an operation.
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 just outside Iranian waters, threatening the lives of the entire crew, creating a maritime emergency,” Pompeo added.
Meanwhile, Mousavi said: “Apparently for Mr. Pompeo and other American authorities accusing Iran is the easiest thing to do,” insisting Iran was upholding the burden of securing the key Strait of Hormuz.
The US military released a video it said shows Iran’s Revolutionary Guards removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the oil tankers targeted near the Strait of Hormuz, suggesting the Islamic republic sought to cover up evidence of its involvement from the scene.
The US Navy rushed to assist the stricken vessels in the Gulf of Oman, off the coast of Iran, including one that was set ablaze Thursday by an explosion.
The ships’ operators offered no immediate explanation on who or what caused the damage against the Norwegian-owned MT Front Altair and the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous. Each was loaded with petroleum products, and the Front Altair burned for hours, sending up a column of thick, black smoke.
While Iran has denied being involved in the attack, Tehran previously used mines against oil tankers in 1987 and 1988 in the “Tanker War,” when the US Navy escorted ships through the region.
The black-and-white footage, as well as still photographs released by the US military’s Central Command on Friday, appeared to show the limpet mine on the Kokuka Courageous.
In Tokyo, the owner of the Kokuka Courageous said its sailors saw “flying objects” before the attack, suggesting it wasn’t damaged by mines. Company president Yutaka Katada offered no evidence for his claim, which contradicts the US military account.
Katada also said crew members saw an Iranian naval ship nearby, but did not specify whether this was before or after the attacks.
The suspected attacks occurred at dawn Thursday about 40 kilometers (25 miles) off the southern coast of Iran. The Front Altair, loaded with the flammable hydrocarbon mixture naphtha from the United Arab Emirates, radioed for help as it caught fire. A short time later, the Kokuka Courageous, loaded with methanol from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, also called for help.
The US Navy sent a destroyer, the USS Bainbridge, to assist, said Cmdr. Joshua Frey, a 5th Fleet spokesman.
Thursday’s attack resembled that of an attack in May targeting four oil tankers off the nearby Emirati port of Fujairah. US officials similarly accused Iran of targeting the ships with limpet mines, which are magnetic and attach to the hulls of a ship. The mines disable, but don’t sink, a vessel.
At the United Nations, the Security Council held closed consultations on the tanker incidents late Thursday at the request of the United States but took no action.
Tensions have escalated in the Mideast as Iran appears poised to break the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, an accord that US President Donald Trump repudiated last year. In the deal, Tehran agreed to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of crippling sanctions. Now, Iran is threatening to resume enriching uranium closer to weapons-grade levels if European nations don’t offer it new terms to the deal by July 7.
Already, Iran says it quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium. Meanwhile, US sanctions have cut off opportunities for Iran to trade its excess uranium and heavy water abroad, putting Tehran on course to violate terms of the nuclear deal regardless.