President Donald Trump says “Iran did it,” and allies and experts mostly agree. That hasn’t erased questions about the strength of the evidence his administration has presented on this week’s attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf — or resolve what happens next.
In the U.S., Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said the military obviously needs “to make contingency plans should the situation deteriorate.” But Senator Bernie Sanders, a leading Democratic presidential contender, said “this incident must not be used as a pretext” for a war that would “be an unmitigated disaster for the United States, Iran, the region and the world.”
Internationally, the U.K. said it’s “almost certain” that Iran was behind the attacks on two tankers near the Strait of Hormuz — saying nobody else plausibly could have carried them out — while United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an independent investigation because “it is very important to know the truth.”
While Iran denied culpability, the Trump administration depended on video and photographs released by U.S. Central Command of a boat alongside the hull of a larger vessel with a hole in its side.
The U.S. said the video showed Iranian forces removing from the vessel an unexploded limpet mine, a type usually attached by a magnet. But the president of the Japanese company that owns the ship said there was “zero chance” that a mine was at fault because “something flying toward the ship” damaged it above sea level.
“There is no smoking gun yet, no fingerprints, despite tentative evidence produced by the U.S. military,” said Fawaz Gerges, professor of Middle Eastern politics at the London School of Economics. “Are Iranian leaders reckless enough that they would provide fuel that drives hard-liners within the Trump administration — or are they engaged in a calculated but dangerous escalation against U.S. Gulf allies?”
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has suggested that Iran’s enemies may have been behind the attacks, essentially framing his country, and renewed calls for a regional dialogue. In a tweet on Friday he said, “Unilateral US actions — incl. its #EconomicTerrorism on Iran — are solely responsible for insecurity & renewed tension in our region.” blOOMBERG