Following an attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman and accusations by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Iran is responsible, the Pentagon has approved sending 1,000 more troops to the Middle East, in part, in response to the recent perceived threat by Iran.
The statement of additional forces being sent to the Middle East was made by Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan who said, with advice from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the White House, “The recent Iranian attacks validate the reliable, credible intelligence we have received on hostile behaviour by Iranian forces and their proxy groups that threaten United States personnel and interests across the region.” These 1,000 troops are in addition to 1,500 troops, along with drones and fighter jets, that were sent around the end of last month in response to US intelligence claiming Iran will attack US forces in the Middle East.
The US position as to what caused the damage to the oil tanker is that mines were placed, and damaged one of the ships, owned by the company Frontline, causing the crew to be rescued by the Iranian Navy and brought to shore, where they flew from Iran to Dubai before returning home. The other ship, owned by a Japanese company, had an un-exploded limpet mine attached to it, while footage from a US navy helicopter appears to show an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Gashti Class patrol boat approach the ship and remove the mine from the hull. It is unclear from the video exactly who it was that removed the mine from the ship, though it is being used as further proof that Iran was responsible for the attack, without saying exactly why that is.
The damage done to either ship was not enough to sink them, as the holes created in the ships are above sea line, which makes it unclear as to what the purpose of the attack would be.
The owner of the other oil tanker that was attacked, president Yutaka Katada of the Japanese shipping company Kokuka Sangyo, disputes the US’s accusations. Katada said that based on where the hole in the ship was created, above the waterline, it would not be possible for a sea mine to have caused that kind of damage. He also mentioned reports from the crew “that something flew towards the ship,” further conflicting with the US’s telling of the events.
At the time of the attack, the Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe was visiting Iran to discuss oil imports into Japan and to help strengthen ties between the two countries. This is the first time a Japanese prime minister has visited Iran in over 40 years.
The day after the attack on Friday, the UK government agreed with the US assessment of the situation, saying “It is almost certain that a branch of the Iranian military – the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – attacked the two tankers on 13 June. No other state or non-state actor could plausibly have been responsible.” Despite this, Jeremy Corbyn disagrees with the UK and US government’s conclusion and thinks there should be de-escalation of tensions with Iran, and “Without credible evidence about the tanker attacks, the government’s rhetoric will only increase the threat of war.”
Iran for its part has denied involvement in the attacks, and on Sunday the speaker of the Iranian parliament, Ali Larijani, accused the US of being behind the attacks in order to reinforce the economic sanctions that were reimposed on Iran after Trump pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear deal meant to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons capacity. A large factor keeping Iran from producing more uranium was the promise by the US to end economic sanctions that had been placed on Iran. Iran has said they have begin producing low-grade uranium and will pass the limit set by the Iran nuclear deal in 10 days unless an agreement is reached with European countries to help ease the economic damages imposed by US sanctions.