By the Apadana Chronicle Editorial Board
On June 13, 2019, two oil tankers, the Japanese Kokuka Courageous and Norwegian Front Altair, were attacked near the Strait of Hormuz while transitioning the Gulf of Oman. The attacks transpired while the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe was in Tehran meeting with the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ali Khamenei. On the day of the incident, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed the Iranian regime was responsible for the attacks. “This assessment is based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute 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,” Pompeo said. The next day, the US military published a video showing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) militants removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the two oil tankers. Thanks to the hysteria and disinformation concocted by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and individuals aligned with the mullah regime, many are not fully convinced of the IRGC’s complicity. Let us examine the facts.
The IRGC attempted to shoot down a US drone that was surveilling the tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman.
According to CENTCOM spokesman Lt. Col. Earl Brown, a modified Iranian SA-7 surface-to-air missile attempted to shoot down a U.S. MQ-9, at 6:45 AM local time. “The SA-7 was ineffective and its closest point of approach to the MQ-9 was approximately one kilometer,” Brown said. “Subsequent analysis indicates that this was a likely attempt to shoot down or otherwise disrupt the MQ-9 surveillance of the IRGC attack on Kokuka Courageous.” The SA-7 was ineffective and its closest point of approach to the MQ-9 was approximately one kilometer. Prior to the attempt by the IRGC to shoot down the MQ-9, the drone had observed the Front Altair on fire. The attacks followed shortly after Reaper drone arrived at the scene where Front Altair sent out a distress signal.
The IRGC gunboats surrounded vessel rescuing tanker crew and detained sailors
Hyundai Dubai picked up the sailors from the Front Altair tanker but IRGC gunboats surrounded the ship and demanded that the tanker’s crew be surrendered. The captain of Hyundai Dubai eventually complied with the order. The IRGC then forcefully detained and transported the crew to Iran.
IRGC fast-boats prevented tug boats from towing away damaged oil tanker
Two privately owned tug boats arrived at the scene and tried to tie up and tow away Front Altair. IRGC fast-boats appeared and tried to impede this process.
The IRGC removed unexploded limpet mines off the side of one of the tankers
The video released by CENTCOM shows an IRGC boat approaching the vessel, removing unexploded limpet mines before speeding away from the scene. No attempts were made by this boat to contact the crew of the vessel to check upon their well-being. No rescue effort was undertaken by this boat. An image later released by the US military showed damages on the side of the vessel likely caused by mines. A limpet mine was also believed to be the cause of an attack on four tankers in May off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
The regime and the IRGC have repeatedly threatened retaliation over the sanctions
From Hassan Rouhani to Javad Zarif to various ranking members of the IRGC, all have made threats insinuating obstruction of the Strait of Hormuz. Mohammad Ali Jafari, former commander of the IRGC, was quoted by the semi-official Tasnim news agency in July 2018 as saying: “We will make the enemy understand that either everyone can use the Strait of Hormuz or no one.” Around the same time, Ismail Kowsari, another high-ranking IRGC militant said, “If they want to stop Iranian oil exports, we will not allow any oil shipment to pass through the Strait of Hormuz,” In December 2018, Hassan Rouhani warned: “if someday, the United States decides to block Iran’s oil [exports], no oil will be exported from the Persian Gulf.” In April 2019, IRGC Navy Commander Alireza Tangsiri said, “If Iran’s benefits in the Strait of Hormuz, which according to international rules is an international waterway, are denied, we will close it.” Also in April 2019, Javad Zarif said, “If the United States takes the crazy measure of trying to prevent us from doing that [selling oil], then it should be prepared for the consequences.”
There are several questions with regard to IRGC’s conduct during and after the attack: 1) What would be the motive behind attempting to shoot down a surveillance drone that is dispatched to assess a critical situation? 2) Why did the IRGC interfere with the rescue mission? 3) Why did the IRGC try to prevent the towing of a damaged vessel? and 4) Why would a malevolent militant faction suddenly become so altruistic to remove undetonated mines off a foreign oil tanker?
All of these questions have a simple answer: the IRGC tried to conceal and obfuscate its involvement in the attacks. The drone was targeted for destruction to disallow gathering of visual surveillance information that could potentially implicate the IRGC. The rescue mission was disrupted and the crew was detained to determine how much they knew and perhaps be intimidated into silence. The hauling of the vessel was intercepted to prevent detection of any evidence on the ship pointing to the IRGC. Finally, the mines were removed to destroy physical evidence.
Almost immediately after Secretary Pompeo’s statement, NIAC-affiliated talking heads reacted in a coordinated fashion on Twitter. As if going through the successive stages of bereavement, their reactions were displayed in a phased manner, starting with obstinate denial of IRGC’s involvement. The barrage of nonsensical tweets and nattering continued as NIAC’s “outrage mob” went from denial to “show me the evidence;” to “it is because Trump withdrew from the JCOPA,” and finally, “the US provoked the IRGC.” Not one blamed the IRGC for this act of sabotage that could have resulted in loss of lives and destruction of the ecosystem. All endeavored to accuse the US as the provocateur for this terrorist act and tried to discredit military-gathered information as if it were merely conjectures by Pompeo and Trump. Instead, their efforts were focused on portraying the IRGC as a victim backed into a corner. They even attacked Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) – a steadfast Trump critic – when he said there was no question that the IRGC was behind the attacks.
To show the thought process of NIAC and its affiliates, here are some of the more amusing comments they made on Twitter.
Esfandiyar Batmanghelidj who works on “business diplomacy” and is a staunch proponent of economical engagement with the mullahs tweeted, “In this sense, who committed the attacks matters less than who created the environment.”
Sanam Naraghi Andelini, a “peace activist” along similar lines as the disruptive, embassy-hijacking peace-seekers of Code Pink, and a member of NIAC’s Board of Directors, blamed “rogue anti-Khamenei” elements for the attacks. She also theorized “some idiot” may have accidentally shot at the drone while trying new equipment; a jaw-dropping revelation.
The final question is, why did the IRGC attack the tankers? Reuel Marc Gerecht and Ray Takeyh provide a sensible answer: the ruling clerics, Mr. Khamenei in particular, are competent strategists. They appreciate the need to enhance their leverage before any talks. Terrorism has always been the regime’s preferred method of inflicting pain on adversaries.