Iranian Officials Blame U.S., Israel for Tanker Attacks As Washington Struggles to Build Anti-Tehran Consensus

Iranian officials have suggested the U.S. and Israel might be behind last week's attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, as Washington continues efforts to increase international pressure on Tehran.

Though the U.S. has said Iranian forces were behind the attacks on the Kokuka Courageous and Front Altair tankers on Thursday, Tehran has denied the allegation.

On Sunday, the speaker of the Iranian parliament argued that the U.S. may in fact be the culprit. "The suspicious actions against the tankers…seem to complement the economic sanctions against Iran considering that [the U.S.] has not achieved any results from them," Ali Larijani told fellow lawmakers, according to AFP.

Larijani suggested the U.S. had a history of such behavior, claiming that America used a false flag operation "during World War II, when Americans targeted their own ships near Japan to create an excuse for hostility." He did not provide any explanation or evidence of the supposed historical precedent.

And on Monday, a former Iranian ambassador and Foreign Ministry spokesperson said both the U.S. and Israel may have been involved in last week's attacks, which he claimed were designed to undermine Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's visit to Iran.

According to the Tasnim News Agency, Hamid Reza Asefi said the "sabotage operation" was a plot thought up by "the Zionist regime of Israel and the U.S. to exert more pressure on the Islamic Republic." He provided no evidence to support his claim. Tehran has denied its involvement in the attacks.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has asserted that he was "almost certain" of Iranian involvement. President Donald Trump made the claim that the incident has "probably got essentially Iran written all over it."

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the allegation was "baseless" and suggested U.S. officials had "immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran [without] a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence."

The Kokuka Courageous was reportedly damaged by a magnetic bomb, or limpet mine, attached to the hull. According to the U.S. military, a second limpet mine was also attached but failed to explode.

The U.S. released video footage showing sailors aboard an Iranian vessel removing the unexploded mine some time after the first explosion. American officials have suggested this proves Iran was attempting to hide any evidence of its involvement.

However, U.S. opponents and allies have said the video is inconclusive. Last week, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the video "is not enough. We can understand what is being shown, sure, but to make a final assessment, this is not enough for me."

The boat's Japanese owner also cast doubt on the U.S. version of events. Kokuka President Yutaka Katada told reporters that the crew reported that two "flying objects" caused the damage. "The crew told us something came flying at the ship, and they found a hole," Katada said, according to Reuters. "Then some crew witnessed the second shot."

The Japanese government is also skeptical. According to the Kyodo News agency, government officials are demanding that the U.S. provide more proof before the country can officially support its conclusion.

"The U.S. explanation has not helped us go beyond speculation," one senior government official told the agency. And a source described as being close to Abe, said the evidence presented by the U.S. does not show "definite proof that it's Iran… Even if it's the United States that makes the assertion, we cannot simply say we believe it."

In a press conference soon after the attacks, Pompeo said the U.S. assessed Iran as being responsible 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."

However, an unnamed source at the Japanese foreign ministry told Kyodo that if having the expertise to pull off an attack was enough to link a nation to the incident, "That would apply to the United States and Israel as well."

Iran, U.S., Israel, tanker attacks, blame
A picture taken on June 13, 2019 reportedly shows an Iranian navy boat trying to control fire from Norwegian owned Front Altair tanker after it was attacked in the Gulf of Oman. Getty/-/AFP