Saudi Arabia backs US charge Iran behind Gulf of Oman tanker attacks

The Norwegian owned Front Altair tanker was attacked in the waters of the Gulf of Oman. (AFP)
Updated 17 June 2019

Saudi Arabia backs US charge Iran behind Gulf of Oman tanker attacks

  • Iran’s foreign ministry dismisses accusation as ‘baseless’
  • Anwar Gargash, the UAE minister of state for foreign affairs: twin attacks marked a ‘dangerous escalation’

LONDON: Saudi Arabia said it agrees with the US blaming Iran for attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman as the Americans produced a video on Thursday showing the removal of a mine from the side of one of the ships by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC).

US Central Command spokesman Bill Urban released a video of what the US military said was an IRGC Gashti Class patrol boat approaching the ship Kokuka Courageous “and was observed and recorded removing (an) unexploded limpet mine from the M/T Kokuka Courageous.”

The attacks on the ships are part of a “campaign” of “escalating tension” by Iran and a threat to international peace and security, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

“It is the assessment of the United States government that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks that occurred in the Gulf of Oman today,” Pompeo said. “This assessment is based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.”

“We have no reason to disagree with the secretary of state. We agree with him,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir told CNN. “Iran has a history of doing this.”

The United Arab Emirates said Friday that the twin attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Oman just weeks after four ships were damaged off the UAE coast marked a “dangerous escalation.”
“The attack against the tankers in the Gulf of Oman is a worrying development and a dangerous escalation,” Anwar Gargash, the UAE minister of state for foreign affairs, tweeted after Thursday’s blasts.

 

UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt on Friday also said that there is no reason not to believe US assessment that Iran was behind tanker incident.

“We are going to make our own independent assessment, we have our processes to do that, (but) we have no reason not to believe the American assessment and our instinct is to believe it because they are our closest ally,” Hunt told BBC radio on Friday, echoing comments he made late on Thursday.

Meanwhile, China on Friday called for “dialogue” after the United States accused Iran of being behind attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

Nobody wants war in the Gulf of Oman, the country’s foreign ministry said.

“We hope that all the relevant sides can properly resolve their differences and resolve the conflict through dialogue and consultations,” said foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang at a regular press briefing.

“This conforms with the interests of regional countries, and also conforms with the interests of the international community,” he added.

Also on Thursday, senior US officials said they do not believe the threat from Iran is over.

Speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter, the officials said the US photographed an unexploded mine on the side of one of the tankers, which led to the assessment that Iran was responsible for the attack. The photograph is expected to be made public later Thursday.

The officials say the US will reevaluate its presence in the region. They advise that a program to provide military escorts of merchant ships under consideration.

Iran’s foreign ministry on Friday dismissed the US accusation that it was behind the attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman as “baseless.”
Responding to the “baseless accusations” of Pompeo, Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi insisted that Iran had come to “help” the ships in distress and “saved” their crew as quick as possible, according to a statement published on his Telegram channel.

The crew of a Japanese-owned tanker hit in an apparent attack in the Gulf of Oman saw a “flying object” before a second blast on board, the operator’s head said Friday. They also saw Iranian naval vessel nearby, he added.
“The crew members are saying that they were hit by a flying object. They saw it with their own eyes,” Yutaka Katada, head of Kokuka Sangyo shipping company, told reporters.

 

Dr. Theodore Karasik, senior adviser at Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC, said the leadership in Tehran may be fracturing under economic pressure from the US, with supreme leader Ali Khamenei losing control of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). “Iran is continuing to lash out because of its inability to deal with the sanctions,” he said.

The Front Altair and the Kokuka Courageous were hit by explosions shortly after passing through the Strait of Hormuz. Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the narrow passage at the entrance to the Arabian Gulf, through which about a fifth of the world’s oil supply passes.

In July 2018, two Saudi Arabian oil tankers were attacked in the Bab Al-Mandeb strait at the southern entrance to the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen. The Arab military coalition supporting the Yemeni government blamed the Iran-backed Houthi militia for that attack.

Thursday’s attacks in the Gulf of Oman are a “major escalation,” coalition spokesman Col. Turki Al-Maliki said. “From my perspective ... we can connect it to the Houthi attacks at Bab Al-Mandeb.”

Donald Trump, who has made economic and military pressure against Iran a cornerstone of his foreign policy, was being briefed Thursday about the tanker attack.

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A US defense official told CBS News “it was “highly likely Iran caused these attacks.”

The official said American authorities are expected to recover sufficient debris from the attacks to  trace their source and that any US retaliation would depend on the evidence and on other Gulf countries.

The Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit told the UN Security Council: “Some parties in the region are trying to instigate fires in the region and we must be aware of that.”

His comments will be read as reference to Iran, which Arab countries accuse of attempting to destabilize the region, primarily though its proxy forces in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

Aboul Gheit called on the council to act against those responsible for the attacks to maintain security in the Gulf.

Pressure has been mounting on Tehran from crippling economic sanctions, which have  greatly reduced its oil exports, and an increased US military presence in the region.

The attacks were the second in a month near the Strait of Hormuz, a major strategic waterway for world oil supplies.

The United States and Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for last month’s attacks using limpet mines on four tankers moored off the coast of the UAE. Thursday’s attacks against tankers under steam, moving cargo from Arabian Gulf ports in the UAE and Saudi Arabia to international customers, would be an escalation.

Observers believe the attacks on shipping could be Iran attempting to reassert its position.

“We see this as Iran trying to get negotiating leverage it doesn’t have,” Bob McNally, president of the US consultancy Rapidan Energy Group, told Reuters. “I don’t think it tips us over into direct military confrontation. It is still deniable and denied. This is still going to be like the attack last month – everyone is denying it. It’s a blunt message.”

Other international responses offered strong condemnation but urged caution on attributing blame.

Kuwait's Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Sabah described the attacks as a threat to international peace and security.

 

“This is the most recent event in a series of acts of sabotage that are threatening the security of maritime corridors as well as threatening energy security of the world,” he said.

Acting US Ambassador to the UN Jonathan Cohen said attacks on commercial shipping were “unacceptable” and “raise very serious concerns.”

‘The US government is providing assistance and will continue to assess the situation,” he told the UN Security Council.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned at the meeting that the world cannot afford “a major confrontation in the Gulf region.”

“I strongly condemn any attack against civilian vessels. Facts must be established and responsibilities clarified,” he said.

Qatar condemned the attacks "regardless of who was behind them," the state news agency QNA reported. Qatar also called on all parties to show restraint and stop escalation, while calling for an international investigation into the attacks. 


Arabs reject use of religion to gain power, poll suggests

Updated 32 min 23 sec ago

Arabs reject use of religion to gain power, poll suggests

  • Use of religion for political gain is rejected by 58 percent of respondents in a YouGov poll
  • Experts believe there is now more awareness of the tactics of religion-based political parties

DUBAI: Across the Arab world, an increasing number of citizens disagree with the “use of religion for political gain,” according to a recent YouGov survey.

As part of its partnership with the Arab Strategy Forum, Arab News commissioned a survey of the views and concerns of Arabs today and their projections for the future of the region.

A total of 3,079 Arabic speakers were surveyed, aged 18 and above and living across 18 countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Results revealed that 43 percent strongly disagree with the “use of religion for political gain,” while 15 percent “somewhat disagree.” By contrast, 7 percent strongly agree and 8 percent “somewhat agree.”

Another 14 percent “neither agree nor disagree” with the “use of religion for political gain.”

The combined average, however, unambiguously opposes the idea — at 58 percent. “The cases of Lebanon and Iraq shows a streak of anti-sectarianism rather than that of anti-religion per se,” said Dr. Albadr Al-Shateri, politics professor at the National Defense College in Abu Dhabi.

“Religious beliefs are deep-seated in these societies, so the advent of Western-style secularism in the region is doubtful. Even the most secular country in the Middle East, Turkey, turned out to have religious inclinations when it voted in an Islamist party” more than a decade ago. 

As long as people have little trust in political institutions, they will revert to their primary social institutions, notably religion, family and tribe, Al-Shateri told Arab News.

Dr. Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a former chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences, said that the YouGov findings suggest that the days of using religion for political gain are over.

“We are seeing more and more awareness that religion-based political parties are not so genuine in their religious preaching,” he told Arab News.

“People are becoming aware that those who preach freedom, equality, democracy and women’s empowerment using religious discourse are no longer believable.”

Significant numbers disagreed with the statement in Iraq and Kuwait (74 percent), as well as in Lebanon (73 percent), Libya (75 percent), Sudan (79 percent), and Syria and Yemen (71 percent). 

“Ultimately, it’s a question of credibility of politicians,” said Nadim Shehadi, an associate fellow at Chatham House, adding that “the credibility of political establishments is on the decrease globally because they are failing to deliver.”

He said that there is a general sense globally that political establishments are corrupt and not credible, which he partly pins on shifts in generational issues.

“Your grandparents’ concerns were probably more nationalistic,” he told Arab News.

“The generation of your parents were more about religion and, frankly, the new generation is more concerned about gender issues than anything else.

“Nationalism is totally irrelevant to them and religion far less.”

According to Shehadi, exploitation of religion no longer stirs up the young generation as they have different concerns. “They are on a different planet from politicians,” he said.

“Politicians are addressing issues that are very different from what the new generation is concerned with.”

With unrest continuing in several Arab countries, including Iraq and Lebanon, Abdulla sees it as a second round of the so-called Arab Spring, this time gripping Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon and Iraq.

“What is clear is that this second round is much more peaceful, focused and has already delivered a great deal,” he said.

“In Sudan, we have seen a very peaceful transition that was done to the satisfaction of the Sudanese people, and transition to democracy is going smoothly.

“In Algeria, it’s settling down and an election is coming up with some opposing it. But none of these two cases have witnessed the violence that engulfed Libya and Syria.”

That said, the future will depend on how governments and societies respond to the demands of the youth, according to Al-Shateri.

“The region faces many problems. However, the underlying cause is the lack of good governance. The concept of good governance has its provenance in Arab and Islamic traditions; it is not the equivalent of Westminster-style government necessarily.

“It is based on accountability, justice, equality, rule of law, ombudsmanship and the right to petition the government.”

Al-Shateri said Lebanon, Algeria, Iran and Iraq are examples of countries that have failed to provide these conditions, adding that the same was the case in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Syria when the Arab Spring uprisings began in 2011.

If regional countries achieve good governance, Al-Shateri expects many improvements in society, the economy and governance. “Short of that, the region will languish in backwardness, underdevelopment and conflict,” he said.