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Concrete proof first

If indeed Iran is behind recent attacks on several tanker ships carrying petroleum products, action by the world community — not just the United States — may be necessary. But as of Thursday, only circumstantial evidence of Iranian complicity had been provided.

On that day two more oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman, about 25 miles from the Iranian coast. One ship is owned by Norway, the other by Japan. Both were damaged heavily, with many or all crew members evacuated. A U.S. Navy vessel assisted in getting the sailors to safety.

In events similar to those in other attacks this year, both tankers caught fire after explosions. There was some speculation limpet mines were used. Such devices can be attached magnetically to ships’ hulls, then detonated by timers or by remote control.

What is curious about Thursday’s events is that one of the attacked tankers was owned by a Japanese firm.

Just a day before the explosions, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Tehran, meeting with Iranian officials in an effort to defuse tensions between that country and the United States. Abe said he told Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei he believes U.S. President Donald Trump wants to de-escalate the situation.

After the attacks, Iranian officials pointed out it would have been strange for them to target a Japanese ship immediately after a diplomatic meeting involving that nation’s leader.

Indeed, Iranian leaders would be foolish to do anything that might alienate a nation with which they are attempting to maintain friendly relations.

But, students of history during the past few decades will recall that Iranian leaders sometimes behave in what many would term an irrational manner.

Before any conclusions that could lead to armed conflict are reached, thorough investigations of the tanker attacks are needed. A confrontation may be necessary — but it simply must not be based on anything except concrete proof.

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