The smoking gun? US military releases footage they claim shows Iranian forces removing an unexploded mine from a stricken oil tanker after Tehran denies 'baseless' Pompeo claims it was behind the attack

America's military has released a video claiming to show Iran removing a mine from one of the oil tankers hit by an explosion in the Gulf of Yemen yesterday. 
Washington last night accused Iran of causing the two blasts, which left one of the vessels burning in a fireball and sparked a fresh exchange of angry rhetoric in an already tense Middle East standoff.  
The footage published by the U.S. military purports to show Iranian vessels returning to the stricken Japanese-owned tanker Kokuta Courageous and removing an unexploded limpet mine. 
Iran claimed it had sent a search and rescue team to bring the Kokuta's crew to safety - but America says their real intention was to hide Iranian involvement in the blasts.   
Last night Tehran dismissed the U.S. claims, calling them 'baseless' and accusing America of 'sabotage diplomacy' and 'Iranophobia'. 
The shipping firms affected are continuing their investigations today, amid claims that one of the crews saw a 'flying object' before an explosion on board. 
The explosions, which forced 44 sailors on the Kokuta and the Norwegian-owned MT Front Altair to abandon ship, have also sparked fears over the world oil supply after four tankers were targeted in similar blasts last month. 
As tension ratcheted up again in the Middle East:
  • America said that only Iran could have acted with enough 'sophistication' to carry out the attacks 
  • The U.S. dispatched a destroyer, the USS Mason, to shore up its military presence in the region
  • Iran angrily accused America of trying to 'sabotage' its talks with Japanese leader Shinzo Abe, who was in Tehran trying to defuse the crisis 
  • Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said separately that America is a 'threat to global stability'  
  • Saudi Arabia said it had intercepted drones targeting an airport, two days after the same terminal was attacked by Iran-linked Houthi rebels 
  • Britain and Saudi Arabia, both U.S. allies, condemned the apparent attacks while the UN secretary-general called for calm and China said that 'nobody wants to see war in the Gulf'
  • It was claimed that one of the tanker crews had seen a 'flying object' before an explosion
  • The price of oil rocketed on Thursday amid fears of disruption to one of the world's most important tanker routes as a result of an escalation in the region. 
 Laying out the U.S. claims against Iran last night, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said 'it is the assessment of the United States government that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks that occurred in the Gulf of Oman.' 
'This assessment is based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to executive the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication,' he said.  
The U.S. Central Command also released the grainy black-and-white video which it said showed an Iranian patrol boat removing the unexploded limpet mine from the Japanese ship. 
'At 4.10 p.m. local time an IRGC Gashti Class patrol boat approached the M/T Kokuka Courageous and was observed and recorded removing the unexploded limpet mine' from the Courageous, said Captain Bill Urban said. 
Britain today backed Pompeo's claim as foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said the UK 'has no reason not to believe the American assessment'. 
In addition, the German government is calling for an investigation into the 'extraordinarily worrying' suspected attacks. 
Ulrike Demmer, a spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, told reporters in Berlin on Friday that a 'spiral of escalation' must be avoided. 
The U.S. has also dispatched its destroyer USS Mason to the scene to 'provide assistance' after the Navy received distress calls from the two tankers yesterday. 
Renewing Washington's threat of military action, Captain Urban said: 'The U.S. and the international community stand ready to defend our interests, including the freedom of navigation. 
'The United States has no interest in engaging in a new conflict in the Middle East. However, we will defend our interests.'  
Iran has denied being involved in the attack, calling it an 'unfounded claim' in the U.S.' 'Iranophobic campaign.'  
Foreign minister Javad Zarif said the group he calls the 'B-team' - America's John Bolton, Israel's prime minister, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - were waging 'economic terrorism' against Iran. 
Tehran accused America of trying to 'sabotage' its talks with Japanese leader Shinzo Abe, who was visiting Tehran in an effort to cool tensions.  
The Islamic Republic said yesterday it was 'suspicious' about the timing of the blasts during Mr Abe's visit. 
His talks with Iran's supreme leader appeared to take a wrong turn yesterday as the Ayatollah said Tehran would 'never repeat' negotiations with the U.S. 
However, Mr Abe said Khamenei assured him that Iran has no intention to produce, possess or use nuclear arms. 
Last night President Trump tweeted in response to the Japanese PM's visit that the U.S. was not 'ready' to make a deal with Iran.
He wrote: 'While I very much appreciate P.M. Abe going to Iran to meet with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, I personally feel that it is too soon to even think about making a deal. They are not ready, and neither are we!'
Meanwhile Russia said it was too early to say who was behind the explosions. 
It was also claimed today that one of the crews saw a 'flying object' before an explosion on board.
'The crew members are saying that they were hit by a flying object. They saw it with their own eyes,' said Yutaka Katada, head of the shipping company which owns the Kokuka.
'We have received a report saying that something seems to have flew in, there was an explosion and it created a hole in the body of the ship.'  
Iran previously used mines against oil tankers in 1987 and 1988 in the 'Tanker War,' when the U.S. Navy escorted ships through the region. 
The latest round of attacks has sparked fears over oil supplies.  
'We need to remember that some 30 per cent of the world's seaborne crude oil passes through the straits. If the waters are becoming unsafe, the supply to the entire Western world could be at risk,' said Paolo d'Amico, chairman of the INTERTANKO tanker association. 
The suspected attacks occurred at dawn on Thursday around 25 miles off the southern coast of Iran. 
The Front Altair, loaded with the flammable hydrocarbon mixture naphtha from the United Arab Emirates, radioed for help as it caught fire. 
A short time later, the Kokuka Courageous, loaded with methanol from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, also called for help.
The destroyer USS Bainbridge went to the vessels' aid after receiving two distress calls, the Navy said. 
There was also some dispute over who had rescued the 44 sailors, as Iran initially claimed to have taken them to safety - but the Japanese owner of Kokuka said the ship's crew were rescued by a Dutch vessel, then taken to a U.S. warship. 
The Taiwanese oil refiner which chartered the Marshall Islands-flagged Altair said the ship was 'suspected of being hit by a torpedo'.  
The Marshall Islands are an 'associated state' of the U.S.  
Reports said the Front Altair, travelling from Qatar to Taiwan with a cargo of naphtha, a petrochemical product, had suffered three explosions and caught fire after a 'surface attack'. 
Iranian news agency IRNA claimed that the ship had sunk, but its Norwegian owner Frontline insisted it was still afloat. 
Its crew of 23 were picked up by nearby vessel Hyundai Dubai. The crew was made up of 11 Russians, one Georgian and 11 Filipinos, International Tanker Management said.    
The Altair's cargo was worth more than $30million, according to estimates from trade sources.  
Meanwhile, a shipping broker said the Kokuka, which flies under Panama's flag, had suffered an explosion after an 'outside attack' which may have involved a magnetic mine.   
The company operating the ship, which was heading to Singapore, said the attack had caused 'damage to the ship's hull starboard side.'
The Kokuka's 21 crew were picked up by the nearby Vessel Coastal Ace, leaving the tanker adrift and empty after an engine room fire.   
One of the crew members was slightly injured in the incident and received first aid on board the Coastal Ace, while the Kokuka's methanol cargo is said to be intact.  
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the world cannot afford a major confrontation in the Persian Gulf region.
Speaking to the security council today he demanded that 'facts must be established' and said: 'I strongly condemn any attack against civilian vessels'. 
The European Union called for 'maximum restraint' to avoid a regional escalation. 
The explosions yesterday came just weeks after four oil tankers were targetred in mysterious acts of sabotage off the nearby Emirati port of Fujairah last month. 
U.S. officials similarly accused Iran of targeting the ships with limpet mines, which are magnetic and attach to the hulls of a ship, disabling the vessel without sinking it. 
Matters worsened after two pumping stations on a major Saudi oil pipeline were attacked by explosive-laden drones, halting the flow of crude along it. 
High tensions in the Middle East, and belligerent rhetoric from Washington and Tehran, have sparked fears that any sudden movement could escalate into a war. 
Last month the U.S. deployed B-52 bombers and the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln to shore up its military presence in the region.
Meeting Mr Abe yesterday Iran's Ayatollah said that the U.S. 'couldn't do anything' to stop his country developing nuclear weapons. 
He also took aim at Donald Trump and said he did not believe the U.S. President's offer of 'honest negotiations'.
Mr Abe had warned of the danger of an 'accidental' war breaking out in the region. 
The attacks yesterday also came just hours after Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi rebels attacked a Saudi airport, wounding 26 people.
The Saudi-led coalition which is fighting the Houthis in Yemen immediately pointed the blame at Iran, saying Tehran had equipped the rebel group with 'advanced weapons'.
Saudi officials said the attack 'proves this terrorist militia's acquisition of new special weapons' [and] the continuation of the Iranian regime's support and practice of cross-border terrorism.' 
A rebel TV network acknowledged the attack and said Houthi forces had fired a cruise missile.    
The latest crisis erupted after Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani threatened to abandon the 2015 nuclear deal with the West, which is faltering already after Donald Trump pulled out of it last year. 
Tehran has demanded that the UK, France, Germany, China and Russia help Iran to dodge U.S. sanctions, which were restored last year when Donald Trump quit the pact. 
Speaking last month Rouhani said Iran would ramp up nuclear enrichment if such help did not materialise.
But the White House condemned what it called Iran's attempted 'nuclear blackmail of Europe' and warned: 'Expect more sanctions soon. Very soon.'  
The threat also sparked a backlash from Israel, where Benjamin Netanyahu warned he would 'not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons'. 
U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said Iranian mines were almost certainly behind the May 12 attacks, but declined to provide evidence.
The UAE said last week that initial findings of a five-nation investigation indicated a state was likely behind the attacks, but added there was no evidence yet of Iranian involvement.
Donald Trump's White House has not ruled out military action against Iran, although both sides insist they do not want a war. 
A week after the May 12 attacks, President Trump warned that if Iran attacks American interests 'that will be the official end of Iran'.
Zarif retorted that 'genocidal taunts' would not 'end Iran'.
However, in an effort to cool tensions Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said there 'won't be any war' while U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. 'fundamentally does not seek any war'. 
The 2015 deal, which then-President Barack Obama helped to negotiate, saw sanctions on Iran lifted in exchange for limits on its nuclear programme.
After the U.S. withdrew from the accord it restored crippling sanctions on Iran, exacerbating a severe economic crisis.    
European powers have tried to find ways to blunt the impact of new U.S. sanctions, in the hope of persuading Tehran to continue to abide by the deal.
However, their efforts have largely failed, with all major European companies abandoning plans to do business with Iran for fear of U.S. punishment.    
Rouhani slammed European countries for seeing the U.S. as the world's 'sheriff' and said this keeps them from making 'firm decisions for their own national interests.'  
Under terms of the deal, Iran can keep a stockpile of no more than 300kg of low-enriched uranium, compared with 10,000kg of higher-enriched uranium it once had.
Washington has effectively ordered countries around the world to stop buying any Iranian oil or face sanctions of their own.   
Powered by Blogger.