Iran hints US could be ‘behind’ tanker attacks

Monday June 17 2019

 

Tehran. Iran’s parliament speaker hinted Sunday that Washington could be behind the “suspicious” tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman to pile pressure on Tehran, official news agency IRNA reported.

“The suspicious actions against the tankers... seem to complement the economic sanctions against Iran considering that (the US) has not achieved any results from them,” Ali Larijani told MPs.

He backed his claim by saying there had been a precedent “during World War II, when Americans targeted their own ships near Japan to create an excuse for hostility”.

A non-belligerent state at the beginning of World War II, the US went to war after Japan’s surprise attack on the American Pearl Harbor base in Hawaii on the morning of December 7, 1941. A Japanese-owned tanker, the Kokuka Courageous, and a Norwegian-operated one, the Front Altair, were attacked on Thursday and left ablaze as they were passing through the Gulf of Oman.

Washington accused Tehran of being behind the attacks, that took place at the same time that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Tehran for talks aimed at defusing tensions between Iran and the US.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed the US claim as “baseless” and said Washington had “immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran -- (without) a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence”.

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Iran has been locked in a bitter standoff with the United States since Trump withdrew from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal in May last year.

Washington has since reimposed crippling unilateral sanctions on Tehran -- targeting crucial parts of Iran’s economy, especially the banking and oil sectors -- and launched a military buildup in the Gulf.

In a similar development, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accused rival Iran of attacks on two oil tankers in a vital Gulf shipping channel, adding he “won’t hesitate” to tackle any threats to the kingdom, according to excerpts of an interview published on Sunday.

“The Iranian regime did not respect the presence of the Japanese prime minister as a guest in Tehran and responded to his (diplomatic) efforts by attacking two tankers, one of which was Japanese,” Prince Mohammed told pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, referring to the attacks in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday.

“We do not want a war in the region... But we won’t hesitate to deal with any threat to our people, our sovereignty, our territorial integrity and our vital interests,” he added.

The twin attacks sent crude prices soaring amid a tense standoff between Iran and the US. The Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous was carrying highly flammable methanol through the Gulf of Oman when it was rocked by explosions, causing a blaze that was quickly extinguished.

A tanker owned by Oslo-listed company Frontline was also targeted. The two vessels were attacked around the time Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was meeting with Iranian leaders in Tehran. US President Donald Trump said the attacks had Iran “written all over it”.

Tehran has vehemently denied any involvement. Saudi Arabia, a close US ally, is a bitter regional rival of Iran.

Iran has repeatedly warned in the past that it could block the strategic Hormuz Strait in a relatively low-tech, high-impact countermeasure to any attack by the United States.

Doing so would disrupt oil tankers travelling out of the Gulf region to the Indian Ocean and global export routes. (AFP)