The attacks on two Japanese oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week have raised both concerns and exasperation in the region. Saudi Arabia, Britain and the US — of course — accuse Iran of carrying out the attacks; it has rejected the accusations. The US made the accusations without “a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence,” insisted Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Twitter on Friday.
The US Navy said that it spotted Iranian vessels near the targeted tankers and released a video claiming to show Iranian sailors removing an unexploded limpet mine from the hull of one of the vessels. However, Japan’s preliminary investigations suggest that “a flying object” hit the ships: “The crew saw it with their own eyes. The impact happened above the water line. The crew took evasive action but were hit again three hours later.”
The US allegation is also questioned by many observers in the region, not least because US intelligence has been found wanting on several fronts over the years, including the misleading claims about Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” which led to the disastrous 2003 invasion and occupation. Moreover, given the recent diplomatic contacts between senior Japanese and Iranian officials, these accusations are hardly convincing. The Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzō Abe, was in Iran when the attacks occurred. It was a significant visit for both countries, given that, “The last Japanese prime minister to visit Iran was Takeo Fukuda in 1978.”
Furthermore, it is believed widely that Abe carried a direct message from US President Donald Trump to the Iranians following his own visit to Japan on 25 May “for high-stakes talks about trade and other key issues.” According to informed sources, included on the agenda “was the US readiness to engage with Iran.” Iran is going through difficult economic and political times at the moment, so it is unimaginable that Tehran would jeopardise economic and political opportunities by attacking the tankers.
What’s more, Iranians boats were amongst the first to rescue the desperate crews after the attacks took place. A video has emerged on YouTube in which grateful crew members thank Iran for its assistance.
I believe that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad Bin Salman, and his mentor Mohammed Bin Zayed, his counterpart in the UAE have made specific financial commitments to Trump involving the purchase of billions of dollars’ worth of arms from the US. There are challenges in meeting those commitments. The price of oil, the economic slowdown and the increase in political and social spending within and beyond their respective countries top those challenges. Their sponsorship of the war in Yemen has further complicated the situation, as has the failure to push through with privatisation of Aramco, the biggest oil company in the world, which Riyadh was hoping would raise trillions of dollars. The duo also backs the destructive war led by warlord Khalifa Haftar in Libya.
Given these commitments and challenges, they had to look for other ways to fund and meet their commitments to Trump. Thus, they have created an “imminent and present danger” which requires immediate regional action: Iran.
According to Wikipedia, “In 2002, the Persian Gulf nations of Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE produced and exported about 25 per cent of the world’s oil, held nearly two-thirds of the world’s crude oil reserves, and about 35 per cent of the world’s natural gas reserves.” Those figures have increased exponentially since.
Almost all of these exports pass through the Strait of Hormuz into the Gulf of Oman before reaching the Indian Ocean. The Gulf countries will, therefore, be required to contribute towards securing the Arabian/Persian Gulf from the “Iranian threat” henceforth.
Achieving “consensus on Iran” and establishing security understanding between the Gulf States and the US will entrench the US, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the security of the waterway and they could eventually “own and control the route”. If this scenario does materialise, it may have a negative impact on Iran and, indeed, Qatar, which is currently blockaded from all sides by its neighbours.
“In 2009, Qatar exported over 2.4 trillion cubic feet (68 billion cubic metres) of natural gas, 70 per cent of which was LNG,” most of which is transported through the Persian Gulf. Furthermore, the entrenchment of the US, Saudi and UAE will benefit the state of Israel by presenting a buffer in the region and transferring the “Iranian threat” completely to its Arab neighbours. They will keep Iran in check and possibly act against it whenever commanded to do so. After all, being the “custodians of Sunni Islam, they could do as they please against Shia Iran,” whereas an Israeli attack against the Iranians could trigger a regional war.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.