Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran on Thursday for early-morning explosions that disabled two tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, saying U.S. intelligence, the level of expertise needed to carry out the "blatant attack," and recent events suggested Iran was the culprit.
U.S. officials echoed those allegations at an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting in New York later Thursday, after which Iran "categorically" rejected the "unfounded claims" from the U.S., condemned the attacks "in the strongest possible terms," and urged "the U.S. and its regional allies must stop warmongering and put an end to mischievous plots as well as false flag operations in the region."
Early Friday, U.S. Central Command released a black-and-white video from a U.S. surveillance aircraft, describing it as showing Iranian sailors on a Revolutionary Guard boat removing an unexploded limpet mine from the side of one of the two damaged tankers, the Japanese-owned chemical tanker Kokura Courageous, on Thursday afternoon. Limpet mines attach to ship hulls and disable but don't destroy the vessel.
The Kokuka Courageous's Japanese owners said the crew saw "flying objects" before the explosion, suggesting mines were not the cause. The second ship, the Norwegian-owned MT Front Altair, burned for hours. All crew members from both ships were evacuated safely.
The apparent attack on the Japanese ship "appeared timed to undermine diplomatic efforts by Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who was wrapping up a high-stakes visit to Tehran," The Washington Post reports. There is a "widening split between pro-diplomacy officials in Iran and hard-liners opposed to further negotiations, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps," a paramilitary group that reports only to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Revolutionary Guard and other Iranian security services "have a decades-long history of conducting attacks and other operations aimed precisely at undermining the diplomatic objectives of a country's elected representatives," the Eurasia Group think tank said in a note Thursday.