Photograph Source: Mehrnews – CC BY 4.0
Recent weeks have seen tensions between the United States and Iran soar, initially after a May 2019 incident in which four commercial vessels were struck in the Gulf of Oman (two Saudi oil tankers, one Norwegian and an Emirati ship), ebb thereafter and escalate yet again when a similar attack took place a month later on the Japanese Kokuka Courageous and Norwegian Front Altair tankers, also in the Gulf of Oman. Tellingly, when it appeared the war rhetoric had subsided after the first incident it quickly ratcheted up, and by several degrees, after the second, as if the May episode had failed to achieve its goal. President Trump’s apparent last-minute change of heart in calling off planned airstrikes when Iran downed a U.S. military surveillance drone last Thursday highlights the war footing Washington is on.
Both tanker assaults were allegedly at the hands of Iran, that is, according to Saudi King Salman, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, albeit by unclear means and for dubious reasons.
It did not take long for doubts to surface as to why Iran would attack a Japanese tanker in the midst of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Tehran in an attempt to mediate between it and Washington. The suspect authenticity of a grainy video released by U.S. Central Command purportedly showing an Iranian patrol boat removing an unexploded limpet mine from the tanker also raised skepticism (the crew indicated they were hit by a flying object, not a mine).
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