PARIS — After mysterious attacks left holes in ships near a port in the United Arab Emirates in May, two similar attacks occurred in the same area last week. This time, the damaged ships were both carrying “Japan-related cargo,” according to Japan’s trade ministry. The incidents occurred while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Iran, meeting with that country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Why would Japan be a target? It’s one of the few traditional U.S. allies to have maintained a trade relationship with Iran. Until recently, Japan had continued to buy Iranian oil despite U.S. sanctions. As a “friend” of America, Japan had received a sanctions waiver by the U.S. government. But U.S President Donald Trump ended all sanctions waivers for America’s buddies in April, forcing Japan to seek solutions.
“We hope (the Japanese government) will make strenuous efforts so imports can be resumed,” Petroleum Association of Japan chairman Takashi Tsukioka said at a news conference held the day before the ships carrying Japanese cargo were damaged, according to the Japan Times.
Finding a way to continue this oil trade is in the interests of both Iran and Japan, but counter to the interests of the U.S. and its regional anti-Iranian allies: Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. These countries all had a conceivable motive to perpetrate the attacks in the Gulf of Oman while Abe was meeting with Iranian leadership to discuss the issue.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was quick to finger Iran, calling the evidence “unmistakable.” But that assertion was undermined by evidence that could best be described as “mistakable”: Members of Congress reportedly criticized the State Department for funding a multimillion-dollar propaganda campaign that targeted and smeared journalists who don’t support the Trump administration’s hardline stance on Iran.
The Pentagon released a video purportedly showing Iranians removing an unexploded mine from one of the ships. At first glance, the video looked a lot like the old black-and-white opening of a “Gilligan’s Island” episode. The passengers aboard that tiny ship could have been Iranian, I suppose. They also could have been Gilligan and the Skipper.
In an interview with Time magazine, Trump called the damage to the tankers “very minor” and dismissed the idea of a military confrontation with Iran. Then why does Trump continue to employ people whose entire raison d’être is to gin up such a confrontation? Does he like playing good cop/bad cop? Or does he enjoy having people around who make him appear reasonable and rational by comparison?
Britain has also joined Pompeo’s war-drum refrain, while top EU diplomats favor restraint in assessing blame for the attacks, pending an independent inquiry. The Japanese owner of one of the attacked ships has said that that the damage, located above the waterline, was likely caused by a projectile rather than a mine.
The attacks served as a convenient pretext for the Pentagon to continue a military buildup in the region, with an announcement that 1,000 more troops will be deployed — as if there aren’t enough U.S. troops in the Middle East already.
Regardless of who’s responsible for these incidents, none of this is really any of America’s business. The U.S. is reacting more aggressively than the countries that were actually involved. If the U.S. has concerns about its own cargo in the region, then it can hire some guys to ride shotgun, WITH shotguns, on the tankers. The placement of security personnel aboard ships as a deterrent was how Somali piracy was defeated a few years ago.
Trump has already been goaded into overreacting and bombing a country when facts later called the reasoning into question. He authorized a bombing in Syria in April 2018 after buying into the narrative that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was responsible for a chemical attack in Douma since the attack involved poison gas cylinders dropped from government helicopters. Recently, a leaked memo from a group of engineers involved in the independent inquiry by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons concluded that the cylinders were manually placed, not dropped, casting doubt on the official narrative.
The public isn’t buying into the idea that Iran is a threat to the West. If it was, the Trump administration wouldn’t have pulled out of the deal signed by former President Barack Obama to discourage an Iranian nuclear program. Iran wasn’t a threat to America until this administration and its hawks became obsessed with making it one.
Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and host of an independently produced French-language program that airs on Sputnik France. Her website can be found at www.rachelmarsden.com.