From Provocation to Confrontation: Why Is the US Blaming Iran for the Tanker Attacks?

As the tensions have been mounting between Iran and the US over the past several months, the strategic region of Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz appear to be turning into a hotspot, in terms of a potential confrontation between Tehran and Washington. On June 13, two tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman, an important maritime route for international commercial and energy transit. 

The US administration was quick to blame Iran for the attacks, claiming that the Islamic Republic is threatening maritime security in the region. However, other major powers, including the European Union, Russia and China have expressed serious doubts about the credibility of Washington’s claims and have called for an independent investigation on the issue. 

In fact, contrary to the American claims, there are enough reasons not to believe that the attacks were conducted or even planned by Iran. First of all, high-ranking Iranian officials have been persistently saying that they’re not after any kind of military confrontation with the US, while declaring readiness to enter dialogue with the US-allied Arab countries of the region. 

In this vein, Iran is well aware that any destabilizing move in the Persian Gulf could not only spark a possible reaction from Washington, but would further antagonize the Arab states. As such, targeting the tankers would be in contradiction to the Islamic Republic’s declared policy.

Tanker Incidents: Who Blinks First?
Ivan Timofeev
The recent tanker incidents in the Gulf of Oman have heightened the potential for a dangerous conflict. Now that the US has accused Iran of being responsible, the likelihood of a military clash is significantly higher. There are several important circumstantial factors which could lead to the beginning of open hostilities.

Furthermore, Iran knows that securing international energy transit is not only in the benefit of the US and its regional allies, but is also a high priority for China and Russia. At a time when Tehran has doubled down on its efforts to develop ties with Moscow and Beijing in order to balance the increasingly aggressive approach of Washington, it would make no sense for Iran to put at risk its good relations with those two great powers. On the other hand, the crew of one of the tankers "Front Altair" included 11 Russians. It’s hard to believe that Iran would act against its close partner Russia by risking the lives of Russian nationals. 

Meanwhile, the other vessel targeted in the Gulf of Oman was a Japanese-owned tanker, named “Kokuka Courageous.” The attacks was carried on at the same time as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Tehran for high-level meetings with Iranian officials. The visit, first of its kind in four decades, was widely seen as a diplomatic initiative by Tokyo to mediate between Tehran and Washington and help ease the tensions. Abe’s visit was also important for Iran in terms of its attempts to develop ties with Japan as an important economic power. Therefore, accepting the US claims on Iran’s role in the attacks would mean believing that Iran has shot itself in the foot by targeting Japanese interests in the region. 

In this vein, the attacks seem to be a “false-flag operation” to depict Iran as threat to the regional security and stability and to use it as a pretext for increasing pressures on the Islamic Republic. In fact, although US President Donald Trump has called the attacks “very minor”, Washington is reportedly planning to dispatch additional troops to the region as a response to what it calls Iran’s “hostile behavior.” At the same time, the US administration is going to call on the major oil importers from the Middle East to contribute to protecting freedom of navigation in the region. 

Having in mind these recent American positions, it’s safe to argue that was behind the attacks, Washington is now using them as new pressure tool against Tehran. In fact, after withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, the US tried to form a new international coalition against Iran, but failed, due to the firm desire of the other world powers to stay committed to the deal. Now, it seems that the White House is actively trying to resort to the issue of maritime and energy security – a critical issue for the Western and Asian powers alike – to finally form its desired anti-Iran “coalition”. 

The end goal is clear: to push Iran into a corner, so that Tehran would have to choose between bowing to the pressures or to be blamed for a war by showing a harsh reaction. As such, although both Iran and the US say they don’t want to enter a war with each other, the whole situation in the Middle East is becoming more and more fragile and any miscalculation or provocation could result in a devastating military confrontation.

Is an Iran-US Conflict Going to Occur?
Zvi Magen
A military clash between the US and Iran is not likely to happen, because, on one hand, Iran lacks the power and resources to pose a real threat to the US. On the other hand, the US isn't really pursuing a full-scale military conflict.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.