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Post Japanese Tanker Incident: Is Iran to Blame?
Created by John Eipper on 06/15/19 11:04 AM

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Japanese Tanker Incident: Is Iran to Blame? (Massoud Malek, USA, 06/15/19 11:04 am)

Japanese Prime minister Shinzo Abe made a historic trip to Tehran to ease US-Iran tensions. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alleged that Iran "insulted Japan" by attacking a Japanese tanker, while Shinzo Abe was visiting its leaders!

The United States said the tanker was attacked by limpet mines and released a video that it said showed men aboard an Iranian boat removing an unexploded mine from one of the ships. But the owner of the Japanese tanker attacked in the Gulf of Oman offered a different account. He said that the Filipino crew of the tanker thought their vessel was hit by flying objects rather than a mine.

"The crew are saying it was hit with a flying object. They say something came flying toward them, then there was an explosion, then there was a hole in the vessel," he told reporters. "Then some crew witnessed a second shot."


Do Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo really think that Iranian leaders are so stupid that they attack a Japanese tanker while Abe is visiting Iran?

JE comments: The details on this story are still coming in. I will agree with Massoud Malek's assumption: why would the Iranians deliberately antagonize Japan?

(Apologies for today's very late start.  The WAIS website was down until this afternoon  Our ever-reliable Roman Zhovtulya came to the rescue as soon as morning broke on the US West Coast.)

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  • Japanese Tanker Incident: Is Iran to Blame? (Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich, USA 06/16/19 5:42 AM)
    Massoud Malek wrote on June 15th: "Do Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo really think that Iranian leaders are so stupid that they attack a Japanese tanker while Abe is visiting Iran? "

    No. But Iranian leaders may well be thinking, "Thank God my enemy is so stupid"!

    Let us recall Mike Pompeo's "confession": "I was the CIA director. We lied, We Cheated, We Stole."

    It appears that Mike Pompeo has a hard time kicking his old habits. He appears to be as smug about lying as a CIA operative as he is as Secretary of State. Categorically blaming the Iranians for the recent oil attack tankers has left friend and foe scratching their heads.

    On June 13, 2019, as Ayatollah Khamenei was holding talks in Tehran with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, two oil tankers carrying oil to Japan were attacked. As investigations into the incident were just beginning, Pompeo had already concluded his assessment and had it ready for the press. Much to the audible surprise of the world, and without any proof or supporting documents, he laid the blame firmly at Iran's feet, citing "intelligence."

    To his relief, in no time at all, US officials claimed that they had managed to get their hands on videos and pictures. They presented a grainy video alleging to show an Iranian navy boat removing mines from the damaged Japanese ship. It is easy to understand why the grainy video's existence was necessary.

    Precisely a month prior, on May 13th, four oil tankers were damaged in the region. The United States blamed Iran without any evidence. Saudi Arabia followed suit. The rest of the world was skeptical and doubts floated about the about the accuracy of US claims. This time around, Pompeo was saved by the video--although not for long! The Japanese vessel owner disputed the presence of mines damaging his vessel (as suggested in the blurry video), as Massoud pointed out.

    To enforce its position and allegations against Iran, the Trump administration made its argument based on misinterpreting what Iran had said about the oil embargo. Following Trump's announcement on April 22nd that America would not renew US waivers for countries which imported oil from Iran, in essence, imposing an oil embargo, on April 25 the Iranian government retorted by condemning America's illegal demands and stated that no other country could take its share of the oil market.

    The Trump team would like us to believe that what Iran meant was the sabotage of the oil tankers. This is far from true. Iran was referring to its legal right under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which legally allows it to impede the passage of oil shipments through its territorial waters--the Strait of Hormuz.

    While UNCLOS stipulates that vessels can exercise the right of innocent passage, and coastal states should not impede their passage, under the UNCLOS framework, a coastal state (Iran) can block ships from entering its territorial waters if the passage of the ships harms "peace, good order or security" of said state, as the passage of such ships would no longer be deemed "innocent."

    Given Iran's recourse to international law, American diplomacy at its all-time low, and the rally behind Iran, if only verbally, it makes absolutely no sense for Iran to blow up oil tankers and turn the world opinion in favor of Trump and his the warmongering advisors--Pompeo and Bolton.

    But tankers were blown up. What other motivations were there?

    Perhaps NOPEC--No to Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act might shed a light. In February, the US House passed a bill that would cripple OPEC. The bill would prohibit OPEC from coordinating production and influencing prices. While the bill was said to provide a useful leverage for the White House, Persian Gulf Arab states sent their warnings to Wall Street.

    On April 5th, Saudi Arabia even threatened to drop dollar for oil trades in order to discourage US from passing the NOPEC Bill. The Saudi threat came on the heels of UAE cautions the prior month that if such bill passed, it would in effect, break up OPEC.

    It may be that this was the reason behind Saudi Arabia's lack of cooperation. After Trump announced his Iran oil embargo, a senior US administration assured the world at large that Trump was confident Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would fill any gap left in the oil market. He was mistaken. On April 29th, the Saudi Energy Minister, Khaled el-Falih, made it clear that Saudi Arabia would not "rush to boost oil supply to make up for a loss of Iranian crude."

    After the May 13th incident, apparently America's accusations did not carry any weight around the world, but they did have an impact on the jittery Saudis. On June 3rd, Bloomberg reported that over the last month, the Saudis raised their oil production to replace lost Iranian oil. The oil market was satisfied and America could continue to put pressure on friend and foe to stop buying Iranian oil--there would be no shortages.

    What then explains the second tanker incidents of June 13th?

    Perhaps the motive is two-fold. Firstly, the United States would reinforce its unfounded allegations that Iran is a "bad actor" and discourage and dissuade the international community from cooperation with Iran. And secondly, the hike in the price of oil as a result of the tanker attacks no doubt sent a sigh of relief to shale oil producers in the United States. A drop in oil prices would greatly harm or bankrupt US shale-focused, debt-dependent producers.

    Not on Trump's watch.

    Although many states in the US and some countries in the world have banned shale oil production due to its adverse effects on the environment, specifically water, the United States' goal is to be the biggest producer and supplier of oil depending on its shale oil production. Currently, according to the latest US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the United States is a net importer of oil. With low oil prices, a halt or slowing of shale, the trend would continue to be an importer.

    Having Saudi Arabia cower to US demands, demonizing Iran, intimidating allies and non-allies with fear of conflict in the region in order to press further demands on Iran, increase in the price of oil, and the weapons that would be purchased by US allies in the nervous neighborhood, seems like a win-win situation for America. For now.

    JE comments: Soraya, you stop short of claiming some sort of false-flag intrigue, but you do suggest it.  Who would have the sophistication to carry off this type of operation--and cover it up afterwards?  And why choose the Japanese as a target?  A related question:  do mines exist in any of these shipping lanes?

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    • Who Owns the Strait of Hormuz? (Timothy Brown, USA 06/18/19 3:54 AM)
      Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich's post (16 June) is predicated on an assumption that the Strait of Hormuz is 100% legally sovereign Iranian territory right up to the beaches of Oman. It is not.

      The shipping lanes through that Strait are almost entirely within the sovereign territory of Oman in accord with an agreement on its maritime boundaries, with Iran on its north and Oman on its south. Hormuz is a major SLOC choke point of critical strategic importance, as was Malacca before the PRC took de facto dominance of South China Sea. Alternatives to Hormuz that were considered more than 30 years ago--a canal through Oman bypassing Hormuz and/or a pipeline capable of moving crude across northern Saudi Arabia would have minimized the problem.

      Now we appear to have yet another strategic challenge to one of the major SLOCs.

      JE comments: "Sea lines of communication."  The Strait is 21 miles wide at its narrowest point.  Oman and Iran each claim 12 miles of territorial waters, which (as I understand it) is within the accepted UN standards.  The overlap in the middle is a ready-made source of conflict.  (Twenty percent of the world's oil passes through Hormuz, as well as 1/3 of its liquid natural gas.)

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      • Iran, Oman, and the Strait of Hormuz (Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich, USA 06/19/19 5:14 AM)
        Timothy Brown (18 June) wrote that I have made the assumption that the "Strait of Hormuz is 100% legally sovereign Iranian territory right up to the beaches of Oman." How did Tim arrive at this conclusion?

        As JE stated, both Oman and Iran have claims to the territorial waters of Hormuz on each side. One does not have to own the whole strait to impede traffic. I readily provided a link to Iran's claims to Hormuz as outlined by the 1982 UNCLOS (United Nations Convention of the Laws of the Sea).  See Martin Wahlisch, The Yale Journal of International Law, March 2012, citing UNCLOS, supra note 12, art. 19, paragraph 1, and art. 25, paragraph 1.

        If Tim has information that contradicts the law journal, please provide the information.

        That said, international law, territory and sovereignty are meaningless when it comes to the US and specifically the Trump administration. Aside from his US embassy move, he did give the occupied Syrian Golan to Israel, and who knows what he is in the mood of giving away. Trump's violation of international law does not change the reality.

        JE comments:  I'd like to know more about the nuts and bolts of the Hormuz choke point.  The Strait is divided into two "lanes," each two miles wide and divided by a two-mile "median."  That's six miles of traffic.  I presume therefore that it's impossible not to sail through waters considered sovereign by Tehran.  Where exactly was the Japanese tanker when the attack occurred?

        Mariner-in-residence Eugenio Battaglia has said through Hormuz more than anyone in WAISworld.  Eugenio's comment is next.

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        • Territorial Waters and the UN (Timothy Brown, USA 06/20/19 7:36 AM)
          I served in Tel Aviv 1965-67, but didn't deal with rights of the sea. My responsibilities involving territorial rights and freedom of navigation matters at the international level came later when I was doing energy policy and dealt almost daily with questions involving international waters.

          I was never made aware that, in 1982, the UN rewrote the traditional definition of navigation in open seas, 3 miles territorial, 12 miles navigable, with the rest of the world's oceanic waters free. Did they do that just because of the Hormuz, or is that now the rule all over the world?

          But I do still remember from when I was stationed in Tel Aviv that the Golan Heights posed a problem, what with snipers taking potshots at people like us having to sit on the veranda of a restaurant with a bullet-proof roof beside the Galilee because snipers on the Golan above were in the habit of firing at the customers, although that didn't protect farmers on the flats between the Golan and Galilee as they plowed their farms, forced to use armored tractors. Thankfully we were in Spain when the war broke out, and not still there when Jordanian and Israeli artillery fought an artillery duel overhead the house we had lived in.

          JE comments: And since we last checked in, Iran has downed a US drone over Hormuz. Sabers are rattling.  Gavrilo Princip struck in June, too.

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          • Gavrilo Princip and St John's Day (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 06/22/19 3:57 AM)

            Gary Moore writes:

            JE warned on June 20: "Iran has downed a US drone over Hormuz. Sabers are rattling.
            Gavrilo Princip struck in June, too."

            St. Johns Day, June 24, Midsummer's Day at the point of high summer (and adjusted upward
            a bit in the 1914 era on the Serbian calendar), has deep mystical significance in the war myths
            of myth-swarmed Serbia (and others). It was as if the summer of 1914 got too hot for the Old Order
            to contain, and the four horsemen then broke loose and stormed through the rest of the century.
            A star-crossing we don't want to see again.

            JE comments:  In the old (Julian) calendar, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand took place on June 15th (June 28th in the West).  Most of the Orthodox countries switched to the Gregorian calendar during or shortly after the Great War.

            June 28th corresponds rather to St Vitus.  He's not a big deal in most countries, but the Serbs venerate him.  Gary Moore explained this a few years back:


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      • Sailing the Strait of Hormuz (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 06/19/19 4:12 PM)
        Very informative post from Timothy Brown (18 June).

        I know the Strait of Hormuz and its sea lanes very well, and went many many times through them.

        Originally the territorial waters extended for 6 miles but then it was increased to 12 miles. Therefore, the Strait of Hormuz is completely open to innocent passage, while warships need permission.

        The sea lanes, one for entering and the other for sailing out of the Persian Gulf, are close to the rocks near the coast of Oman, and inside its territorial waters.

        The US does not recognize the theoretical closure of territorial waters up to 12 miles; however if I am not wrong in early 1941 a great democracy officially at peace extended its territorial waters well beyond this limit and then ordered to its Navy on 11 September 1941 to attack and sink any ship considered hostile.

        Therefore following this precedent, the Iranian Navy may attack any ship that it considers not innocent passage in the entire Strait of Hormuz, as this great democracy had done in earlier years.

        By the way the Iranian attacks on tankers of recent days remind me of the Iraq anthrax scare, the Tonkin incident, Pearl Harbor, the USS Maine and so on, but I may be wrong.

        JE comments: Pearl Harbor, Eugenio?  But let's stay on the subject at hand: Did the sea lanes through Hormuz follow the coast of Oman prior to 1979 as well?  Meaning, does the course follow navigational demands or political realities?

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