On the night of Thursday, June 13, the US Central Command released blurry video footage that it claimed showed an Iranian military patrol boat approaching one of two tankers that had sustained attacks in the Gulf of Oman and removing an unexploded limpet mine from the tanker’s hull. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said American intelligence agencies had concluded that Tehran was behind the disabling of both ships. Dismissing the US claims as “baseless,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said the Iranian navy had come to "help" the ships and had "saved" their crews.

The attacks on the tankers took place on the same day that the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met with Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, in Tehran. A few hours later it turned out that both tankers had been carrying cargo for Japan. Following the news of the attacks, the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting behind closed doors.

In a news conference, Mike Pompeo blamed Iran for the "unprovoked attacks,” and Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif condemned them, tweeting: “Suspicious doesn't begin to describe what likely transpired this morning.”

In any case, the Security Council did not arrive at a conclusion during its meeting because the US failed to present any evidence that Iran was behind the attack. However, now that the video clip has been released, it is not clear what decision the Security Council will take.

This is the second time in the last month that tankers in the area have come under attack. On May 12, the foreign ministry of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) reported that four commercial ships had been targeted in a "sabotage attack" off its coast. In that incident, too, the US pointed the finger at the Islamic Republic, accusing it of being responsible for the hostility. Iran vehemently denied the accusations.

IranWire asked Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of political science at the University of Tehran, about the tanker attacks and what he thought would come next.


The Americans are accusing Iran of being responsible for the attacks on tankers and Iranian officials have denied it. What is your take on this?

Let’s assume that the Americans are right and Iran is the culprit. Still, as much as I try, I cannot understand how these attacks could benefit Iran. In other words, I am completely baffled.

Perhaps one can say that it was done to intimidate the US and its allies and to warn them that if we are unable to export oil then others will encounter problems too. But if this is the case then it must be obvious that by tomorrow, tankers sailing through the Persian Gulf will be escorted by the US Navy, as they did in 1987 and 1988 during the “Tanker War.” This means engaging the US Navy.

Now if we assume that, as Iranian officials such as Mr. Zarif say, these attacks are the result of a conspiracy by other countries like Saudi Arabia, Israel, and so on, who want Iran to be seen as the culprit and who want to trigger a military confrontation between the US and Iran, then we must ask: How is it possible for such operations to take place near the Strait of Hormuz, near Iran’s maritime backyard, without the Iranian military and navy getting wind of it? It is very weird to imagine that such sabotage could happen in this area without the Iranian military noticing it.

Or, perhaps, there are groups in Iran, such as some commanders or religious leaders, who are very much opposed to the normalization of relations between Iran and the West and the US and are not against a military clash. Perhaps they really think that if there is a confrontation Iran’s military will have the upper hand. Perhaps they think, as they have repeatedly said, they will teach the US and Israel an unforgettable lesson — unlike me and people like me who are worried sick about a military confrontation and have no doubt that if, God forbid, there is a military attack it will inflict untold damages and no industrial superstructures, communications, railroads or the infrastructure will escape destruction. Regardless of the harm that we can do to American warships, to American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan or to its allies in the region, if there is a confrontation, the US and Saudi military forces will not leave a lamppost standing.

Of course, it is possible that I am wrong and the military commanders who have said over and over again that we will be the victor in a war with America are right.


What will be the consequences of the attacks on the tankers?

Unlike the previous time that four tankers were damaged off the port of Fujairah — when, more or less, Iran was accused but no specific action was taken — I think this time the Americans will pursue the matter in the Security Council and will not let go of it easily. I believe that, at the very least, the Security Council will issue a resolution against Iran.


What will happen if the Security Council passes such a resolution?

If such a resolution is passed and the attacks are repeated again, then the Security Council has the right to take action. For all intents and purposes, this would be the start of military action.


The attacks took place when Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, was meeting Ayatollah Khamenei. What do you think the significance of this might be? 

Even before the meeting between Mr. Abe and the Supreme Leader I had predicted that, unfortunately, not much would come of it. Nevertheless, the Supreme Leader’s performance was colder, harsher and more radical than I had imagined. I had prayed that Mr. Abe would not leave Iran empty-handed because, I believe, Mr. John Bolton and others wish that he will return empty-handed. I’m really worried about a military confrontation, but the extremists will not be happy with anything less than the downfall of the Islamic Republic. They were hoping that Mr. Abe would return empty-handed so that the ground can be paved for military action.

Now Mr. Trump can tell the world and the public: “Look, I did my best to avoid a military confrontation with Iran and wanted to reach an understanding. But you saw how Iran’s leader behaved. Now the responsibility for military confrontation lies with Iran.”

That is why I think Mr. Abe’s visit was a loss for the Islamic Republic, in the same way the attacks on the two tankers have cost Iran. These things are making the position of those who are worried about a military confrontation weaker and weaker. The European Union is very worried about a military confrontation between Iran and the US, but we can see that the Europeans are also shaking their heads in sorrow.


You mentioned Ayatollah Khamenei’s stance on the meeting with the Japanese prime minister. Why do you think he is moving in the direction that hardliners want or, as you suggested, paving the way for the downfall of the Islamic Republic?

They believe that I and people like me are wrong because we are cowards, terror-stricken and intimidated, and we are wrong because of the terror that we feel. They believe that the Americans would not dare to take military action and, if they do, the Islamic Republic will have the upper hand. American allies in the region, they maintain, are vulnerable. The Lebanese Hezbollah will fire hundreds of rockets toward Israel. We will close the Strait of Hormuz and Iran will teach them a lesson that will be remembered in history. Their idea of military confrontation is one in which Iran is the winner, and that is why they behave this way.


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Can Iran Legally Close the Strait of Hormuz?, July 5, 2018

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Sadegh Zibakalam: I Will Not Trample on the American Flag, November 2016

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