UNITED NATIONS — Initial findings of an investigation led by the United Arab Emirates of May 12 attacks on oil tankers point to the likelihood that a state was behind the bombings, but there is no evidence yet that Iran was involved, the UAE said Thursday.
The UAE along with Saudi Arabia and Norway presented the preliminary findings during a briefing to the UN Security Council, which will also receive the final results of the probe to consider a possible response.
The United States has accused Iran of being behind the attacks on the four oil tankers off the Emirati coast, which came at a time of escalating tensions between Tehran and Washington.
The four vessels — two Saudi-flagged, a Norwegian-flagged and an Emirati-flagged — were damaged by explosions that took place within UAE territorial waters, off the port of Fujairah.
After assessing the damage and carrying out chemical analysis, the UAE told the council that the attacks were sophisticated and of the type most likely carried out by state services.
“While investigations are still ongoing, these facts are strong indications that the four attacks were part of a sophisticated and coordinated operation carried out by an actor with significant operational capacity, most likely a state actor,” said a statement from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Norway.
The initial findings showed that it was “highly likely” that four Limpet mines, which are magnetically attached to a ship’s hull, were used in the attacks, placed by trained divers who were deployed from fast boats, according to the preliminary findings.
The UAE believes the attacks required intelligence capabilities to pick the four oil tankers as targets, one of which — a Saudi ship — was at the opposite end of the anchorage area at Fujairah from the three other tankers.
Saudis blame Iran
Iran has rejected accusations that it was behind the sabotage and diplomats, and there was no explicit mention of Iran’s possible role during the briefing by the UAE.
Saudi Arabia, Iran’s arch-rival, told reporters that Tehran was nevertheless the most likely culprit.
“We believe the responsibility for this attack lies on the shoulders of Iran,” Saudi Arabia’s UN Ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi told reporters after the briefing.
Saudi Arabia maintains the attacks affect the safety of international navigation and the security of world oil supplies, requiring a response from the Security Council.
Russia’s Deputy Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov told reporters after the closed-door briefing that no evidence was presented linking Iran to the attacks.
“We shouldn’t jump to conclusions,” Safronkov said. “This investigation will be continued.”
UN diplomats say that any attempt at the council to punish Iran for the attacks is likely to face opposition from Russia.
US National Security Adviser John Bolton said last week that Iranian mines were likely used in the attacks.
“There’s no doubt in anybody’s mind in Washington who’s responsible for this,” Bolton said last week during a visit to Abu Dhabi.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that Iran was trying to raise the price of oil as Washington works to end Iran’s exports of crude.
Regional tensions have spiked since President Donald Trump’s administration reimposed sanctions against Iran after the United State pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal.
The United States has sent nuclear-capable bombers and an aircraft carrier strike group to the Gulf, but Trump has said he does not want war.
The top commander of American forces in the Mideast said Thursday that Iran had chosen to “step back and recalculate” after making preparations for an apparent attack against US forces in the Persian Gulf region.
But Gen. Frank McKenzie said it was too early to conclude the threat is gone, and he remained concerned by Iran’s potential for aggression.
In an interview with three reporters accompanying him to the Gulf, McKenzie said he would not rule out requesting additional US forces to bolster defenses against Iranian missiles or other weapons.
“I don’t actually believe the threat has diminished,” McKenzie said. “I believe the threat is very real.”
McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, and other military officials are trying to strike a balance between persuading Iran that the US is prepared to retaliate for an Iranian attack on Americans, thus deterring conflict, while not pushing so much military muscle into the Gulf that Iran thinks the US plans an attack, in which case it might feel compelled to strike preemptively and thus spark war.
The general said the US is showing enough force to “establish deterrence” without “needlessly” provoking its longtime adversary. “We’re working very hard to walk that line.”
He said he is confident in the moves he has made thus far.
“We’ve taken steps to show the Iranians that we mean business in our ability to defend ourselves,” he said, referring to the accelerated deployment to the Gulf area of the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group, four Air Force B-52 bombers and additional batteries of Army Patriot air-defense systems.
AP contributed to this report.