US assertions that Iran mined two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on 13 June is as unconvincing as blaming Iran for attacks on three tankers in the same area on 12 May. Iran has no apparent motive, but the United States and its regional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, clearly seek to portray it as an aggressive nation and the world’s greatest terrorist threat.
But their reasons are illogical and threadbare. Apart from their predictable cheer squads among western media and acolyte governments, they are being met by growing international scepticism. Canberra at present remains mute, but Australia could find itself pressured into a war against a country with whom it has no quarrel, and with which it has enjoyed a benign and historically advantageous trade relationship – which would definitely be against Australia’s national interests.
Three tankers, two Saudi and one Norwegian, were attacked in the Gulf on 12 May, and two more, a Japanese and a Norwegian, on 13 June. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran or its acolytes. ‘Evidence’ of Iranian involvement, he said , included grainy footage of an Iranian vessel removing an unexploded limpet mine from the side of one of the tankers. He asserted that there was other proof of Iranian involvement but offered no substantiation. Japanese crew members claimed that drones, not mines, were used in the attack on their ship. They and the Norwegian crew were rescued by Iranian vessels and landed in Iran before flying home.
Meanwhile both President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mahammad Javad Zarif have strongly denied Iranian involvement. Their protests are reinforced by the logic of the matter: if they had authorised such attacks, they would incur the hostility of countries which still support Iran, and would likely lose all international backing for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as well as pressure from other JCPOA signatories to get Washington to lift heavy economic sanctions against Iran.
So who is to blame? Those with the strongest motives include surrogates of the United States, Israel and/or Saudi Arabia. The strategy is tried and true: manufacture a military incident and blame it on the country one wishes to attack. Hitler did it against Poland, the Japanese in Manchuria against China, and the United States against North Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin. Or it could be one of Iran’s home-grown extremist groups, the most likely being Mojahedin-e-Khalk, a group which wants Iran to be a secular democratic state without nuclear weapons, and has been bitterly opposed to the sectarian Iranian Revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, and the religious governments in Tehran that followed. MEK, once on the US terrorist organisation list, has been rehabilitated by Mike Pompeo as a US proxy.
Whatever the facts, it is clear that of President Trump’s advisers, John Bolton and probably Pompeo want military action against Iran. Implausibly, they claim it to be a ‘regional hegemon’ based on its influence in Syria, Yemen, and in Lebanon through Hezbollah. They also imply that Iran has a nuclear weapons program when the whole point of the JCPOA, of which Iran was a willing signatory, was to prevent Iran from developing any nuclear weapons. Compare that to Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal, and Washington’s willingness to provide nuclear technology and materials to Saudi Arabia for its own nuclear program. The reality is the United States, which has overwhelming military assets in the region, and surrounds Iran with bases in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, is the regional hegemon, and is determined to remain so.
Richard Broinowski was Head of DFAT’s North Africa and Middle East Section, and an Australian diplomat in Tehran, both in the 1970s