A US defense official has confirmed this News week that the Iranian armed forces seized an oil tanker in the Oman Sea last week, but the US armed forces only observed the incident and did not confront the Revolutionary Guards.
The semi-official broadcaster of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported for the first time on Wednesday that US forces seized a tanker with Iranian oil in the Oman Sea and then transferred it to another tanker. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards allegedly then carried out a helicopter landing on the second ship, which allowed them to take control and steer it back into Iranian waters, avoiding US warships and planes that were reportedly tracking.
In an official press release, the Revolutionary Guard confirmed the incident, saying that the tanker reached the southern port of Bandar Abbas on October 25. He accused the US of “piracy”, as did Iranian oil minister Javad Oji, who praised the actions of the Iranian armed forces.
The US defense officer in conversation with News week on condition of anonymity, presented a counter-narrative of the event.
“We refute Iranian claims that they prevented us from taking back this ship,” the official said. “Here’s the bottom line: It happened last week. US naval forces in the Gulf of Oman watched Iranian naval forces seize this oil tanker.”
The official described what the U.S. forces saw on the ground.
“There were over 10 Iranian speedboats swarming around this thing,” the official said. “A helicopter was seen flying around and the bottom line was that our troops were reacting to monitor the situation.”
The official said the US refused to release the details of the incident last week “based on a number of sensitivities”. The official added that “Iran is now turning this against us and saying that they have prevented us from taking back this ship, even though it is very clear that our troops were just there monitoring.”
Footage later released by the Iranian media appeared to show a tense scene with Iranian rapid attack boats sailing between the Vietnamese flagged tanker Sothys on one side and two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers of the US Navy 5th Fleet, USS Michael Murphy and USS The Sullivans, on the other.
The US Defense Officer News week spoke to confirmed the tanker in question is currently in Iranian waters, and maritime trackers are currently showing that Sothys near Bandar Abbas.
The US previously seized a number of tankers carrying Iranian oil to Venezuela, accusing them of violating US sanctions preventing the Islamic Republic from exporting its mineral resources. These measures go back to the task of former President Donald Trump in 2018 to conclude a nuclear deal that his predecessor had concluded three years earlier with Iran and China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom.
President Joe Biden, who was Vice President when the landmark deal was reached, has made public efforts to rejoin that deal. In six rounds of negotiations, however, it has so far not been possible to create a sufficient common basis for this, and unilateral US sanctions remain in place.
Meanwhile, Iran has begun enriching uranium at levels above the levels set in the deal, despite claims it is not trying to build a nuclear weapon.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the top diplomat in the recently sworn government of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, said last week that Tehran’s team would return to the Vienna talks after a month-long hiatus during the Iranian election this month.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CBS News in an interview broadcast on Sunday that he was considering other options “and would not rule out military action in comments reminiscent of his predecessor, Trump’s former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The next day, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh responded by reiterating that the US had left the deal first, dismissing “lackluster and hackneyed” comments on other possible courses of action.
“Instead of digging into the language and logic of the hawks in the United States and falling into the trap of those who do everything to preserve Trump’s failed legacy,” said Khatibzadeh, “the US should do better to create a new language and logic based on respect for the rights of nations. “
The easing of the sanctions was made more difficult by the decision of the Trump administration to impose not only nuclear sanctions on Iranian oil companies but also terrorist sanctions resulting from the classification of the Revolutionary Guards by the US as a terrorist organization in April 2019. Shortly thereafter, Iran labeled all US forces in the region as terrorists.
Since then, there have been a number of incidents involving oil tankers at sea, particularly in the Gulf of Oman, where two attacks on international ships by the US have been blamed on Iran, which has denied involvement.
In the summer of 2019, the UK seized an Iranian tanker as it crossed the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea, accusing it of delivering oil to Syria, which is blacklisted by the European Union. Two weeks later, the Revolutionary Guards seized a British flag tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, claiming it was unsafe in the crucial oil shortage at the center of regional and international tensions.
News of last week’s incident in the Gulf of Oman comes just a day before the 42nd anniversary of the Iranian hostage situation. Supporters of the Islamic Revolution, which ousted the Western-backed Shah in 1979, detained dozens of US officials and staff at the Washington embassy in Tehran for 444 days.
The day is celebrated in Iran as a national day of protest against global arrogance.
Update 11/3/21 11:56 PM ET: This story has been updated with more information about the Sea Oman incident and other backgrounds.