Two tankers have been attacked in the Gulf of Oman, which is located just across the Strait of Hormuz from the Persian Gulf. Fingers are naturally being pointed at Iran, which has been using surrogates to attack shipping in the region. The Washington Examiner explains:
“The apparent attack on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday represents a dramatic escalation in regional and international tensions. Coming just one month and one day after an attack on four other oil tankers in the same area, oil prices have spiked upward in fear of what might happen next. “What’s going on here? Blame Iran.”
“The United Arab Emirates and Saudis might want a United States showdown with Iran but they would not risk jeopardizing the U.S. relationship by conducting a false flag attack. Moreover, the damage to the two tankers in this latest incident is suggestive of a torpedo attack: video shows at least one of the tankers on fire with waterline damage amidships. Iran has an array of means for such an attack, including attack submarines of various sizes, disguised fishing and passenger boats, and military fast boats.
“Regardless, this attack fits comfortably with the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps penchant for thinly deniable action. Suffering deep financial losses due to escalating U.S. sanctions, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps wants to pressure the international community into restraining the Trump administration’s maximum pressure strategy. Iran will hope that this attack is sufficiently calibrated to avoid clear evidence of its culpability and thus avoid U.S. retaliation. In that, it is designed as a halfway measure between doing nothing and inviting U.S. retaliation by overtly attempting to shut down the Strait of Hormuz.”
One wrinkle on the attack is the fact that one of the tankers, though Panamanian flagged, is operated by a Japanese company and was carrying methanol to Singapore. Coincidentally Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Tehran about the time the two tankers were set alight, either by shells or torpedoes, accounts vary. The Iranians, usually excitable, are claiming a false flag operation. Hot Air explains:
“The Iranians, of course, will point to the timing and say that they would never have attacked a Japanese tanker while conducting a sensitive diplomatic mission in Tehran. That is curious because if they did, it’s the kind of diplomatic insult that would last a generation — against a country with which the Iranians do some significant business. They can’t afford to anger Japan, especially not with their economy in the tank already under US-imposed sanctions.”
A false flag is unlikely if only for the reason that the perpetrator would be afraid of getting caught. More likely, a local Revolutionary Guard commander was unaware that he was launching an attack on a Japanese operated vessel.
The other tanker was under a Norwegian flag and was headed for Taiwan. Both ships are reported to be ablaze and the crews have abandoned ship, as of this writing.
The United States and her allies are clearly going to have to respond. Continuing Iranian mischief is just going to cause oil price shocks and destabilizes the region. At the very least, the United States Navy is going to have to set up a convoy system to escort tankers into and from the Persian Gulf.
The United States was obliged to perform the same service in the late 1980s when Iran was attacking Kuwaiti tankers. Minesweeping operations will have to commence as well.
The Trump Administration may contemplate offensive operation against the naval and air assets controlled by Iran and its surrogates. Iranian provocations in the Gulf, including the capture of an American Navy ship and the purposeful humiliation of her sailors, have been going on for years.
Iran got away with it during the Obama years, primarily because the then president was eager for a rapprochement with Tehran and conducted a policy of appeasement toward the mullahs.
One of President Trump’s more laudable qualities is that he doesn’t believe in appeasement of anyone.
The only question is, how far is he willing to go to show Iran the terrible cost of attacking American interests. Possible actions range from an all-out campaign to destroy Iranian air and naval assets to more targeted attacks against the sources of specific attacks.
Trump, for now, is likely to start with the less destructive option. But everything short of landing an expedition force and marching on Tehran will be on the table.