The US military released a video that it claims shows Iran is behind Thursday’s attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, which escalated tensions between the two countries and caused oil prices to spike.
The video, along with accusations by US officials, add to mounting suspicions among independent analysts and intelligence experts that Iran launched the attack as a warning to Washington and others attempting to pressure it over its nuclear programme, conventional weaponry and support for militant groups throughout the Middle East.
Tehran has strenuously denied being responsible for the incident and blamed the US of waging an “economic war”.
“Iran categorically rejects the US unfounded claim with regard to 13 June oil tanker incidents, and condemns it in the strongest possible terms,” the Iranian mission to the United Nations said in a statement released on Friday.
“It seems that for Mr Pompeo and other US government officials, the easiest and most convenient way is to blame Iran for this suspicious and unfortunate tanker incident,” Abbas Mousavi, spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, told reporters in Tehran.
The black-and-white, blurry aerial footage released by the US military appears to show a small Iranian patrol boat approaching a bigger vessel, removing an object from the hull and then moving away again.
The US says the video shows Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, an elite branch of the country’s armed forces, removing an unexploded limpet mine from the side of the Kokuka Courageous tanker, suggesting Iran was trying to remove evidence of its involvement in the attack.
Mr Pompeo did not provide any evidence to back his claim but said the assessment was based on intelligence.
“Taken as a whole, these unprovoked attacks present a clear threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation and an unacceptable campaign of escalating tension by Iran,” Mr Pompeo said. He rushed out of the briefing room without taking any questions from reporters.
The US military also released photographs and a timeline of the incident early Friday.
The attacks have alarmed regional powers. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), a staunch US ally which has a complicated relationship with Iran, has called the incident a “serious escalation” and called for international action.
“Wisdom is necessary and there is collective responsibility to ensure the prevention of further tension,” the UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, tweeted late on 13 June.
On Friday, Iranian-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen launched drones at the international airport in Abha, Saudi Arabia – the second such attack in two days.
Five drones targeted the airport and the nearby city of Khamis Mushait, Saudi officials said. No casualties were reported in Friday’s attack, but dozens were said to be injured in the previous attack.
The US and its Gulf allies have also accused Iran and its proxies of being behind a 12 May attack on four tankers off the UAE coast as well as 14 May drone strikes on two Saudi oil pumping stations.
Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also appeared to suggest on Twitter that the attack was an operation to discredit Iran and sabotage a historic visit by Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe. Japan’s transport minister Keiichi Ishii has told reporters the country still did not know who was behind the attack, according to the Kyodo news agency.
The president of one of the tanker’s operators, Kokuka Sangyo, said on Friday in Tokyo that the crew saw something hitting the ship and believed it was unlikely the vessel was hit by a mine.
The incident has aggravated a standoff between Iran and the US, re-igniting tensions that escalated after the US introduced new sanctions against the country.
Brent crude futures rose 0.6 per cent to $61.69 per barrel in Asian trade on Friday after gaining 2.2 per cent on Thursday, according to Reuters. At one point, they had surged as much as 4.5 per cent after the attacks.
Whilst both Iran and the US have said they want to avoid war, the US Central Command has said the US “will defend” their interests.
The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, also said on Wednesday that “Iran will never initiate a war but will give a crushing response to any aggression.”
Japan’s industry minister, Hiroshige Seko, said that the attack will be discussed at a meeting of G20 energy and environment ministers this weekend, while China’s foreign ministry called for all sides to exercise caution. Chinese President Xi Jinping said that China will continue to develop ties with Iran no matter how the situation changes.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies