The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Iran is responsible for the oil-tanker attacks that occurred in the Strait of Hormuz Thursday morning, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a press conference hours after the attack.
Two oil tankers were attacked within the space of 45 minutes in the Gulf of Oman, off of the coast of Iran, where four oil tankers were similarly attacked last month by Iranian forces.
Addressing reporters at the State Department, Pompeo explained that the assessment of Iranian culpability was “based on intelligence, 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 resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.”
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The tankers, one of which was operated by a Japanese company, were hit with torpedo-like projectiles near the water line, causing fires on-board that forced crew members to abandon ship. The attacks came shortly after Tehran rebuffed Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe’s attempts to deescalate military tensions between Iran and the U.S.
The incident disrupted global oil-supply chains and caused prices to increase sharply, since roughly one-third of the world’s oil flows the Strait of Hormuz. Tehran has repeatedly threatened to close off the strait in retaliation for U.S. sanctions that have cut off most Iranian oil exports and devastated the country’s already-struggling economy.
In describing the pattern of aggression that Iran has engaged in since the U.S. withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement reached by the Obama administration, Pompeo noted that 26 civilians were killed on Wednesday after Iranian-backed Houthi rebels fired a missile into a Saudi airport.
“Taken as a whole, these unprovoked attacks present a clear threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation, and an unacceptable campaign of escalating tension by Iran,” he said.
Pompeo also criticized the Iranian foreign minister’s suggestion that the U.S. might be attempting to frame Iran for the attack.
“Iran’s foreign minister responded to these attacks today. He said sardonically: ‘Suspicious doesn’t begin to describe what likely transpired this morning.’ Foreign Minister Zarif may think this is funny but no one else in the world does,” Pompeo said. “Iran is lashing out because the regime wants our successful maximum-pressure campaign lifted. No economic sanctions entitle the Islamic republic to attack innocent civilians, disrupt global oil markets and engage in nuclear blackmail.”
U.S. representatives have been instructed to raise the attacks during a U.N. meeting Thursday afternoon, Pompeo said.