According to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Iran was responsible for causing severe explosions on a Japanese owned oil tanker as it sailed through the Gulf of Oman. The fact that this occurred when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe was in Tehran meeting with Iran’s Supreme Leader and President leads one to conclude that the attack was a disgusting provocation against Japan – one that could reasonably legitimise a proportional military response against the aggressive party. There is only one problem – the Japanese owner of the oil tanker does not believe Mike Pompeo’s interpretation of what happened.
Whilst Pompeo stated that Iran planted an underwater mine near the tanker, the tanker’s owner Yutaka Katada, president of shipping company Kokuka Sangyo Ltd claims that his vessel was struck by aerial projectiles. The fact that Tokyo has likewise not officially condemned Iran whilst many of Japan’s European partners remain sceptical of Pompeo’s version of the story makes it clear that the actual victims of the provocation in the Gulf of Oman feel differently than a third party (the USA).
When taken as a whole, what becomes clear is that whilst Mike Pompeo and John Bolton appear ready to say anything and perhaps do anything to foment a war between Washington and Tehran, this time Japan was the target of the provocation irrespective of who or what staged it. The intent was to embarrass Prime Minister Abe whilst in Iran, thus resulting in a guaranteed failure for his peace mission. Beyond this, the incident was also self-evidently designed to coax Japan into asking its more militarily malleable US ally to attack Iran on its behalf.
First of all, America and Japan can be friends without fighting wars on behalf of the other party. Secondly, if Japan actually believed Pompeo, Japan could declare war on Iran without involving the United States. Thirdly, in a sane world, the US would try to mediate to stop such a war for the greater good for the wider world. Instead, one sees the US beating the war drums even though an attack on a Japanese tanker in Asia does not effect the safety of the United States which is safely located in the western hemisphere.
Instead of the situation following a logical (however dangerous) timeline as outlined above, the situation is both dangerous and completely illogical. First of all, the US like all other nations ought to ask why Iran would intentionally do something to provoke Japan whilst the country’s veteran head of government was on Iranian soil – the first time a Japanese Premier has visited Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979? Why would Iran want to metaphorically (and to an extent literally) torpedo its chances of Abe’s peace mission bringing about win-win results by doing something that would alienate Japan for years to come? When one realises that Japan has an interest in easing Iran-US tensions so that it can return to purchasing Iranian oil, a would-be Iranian attack on a Japanese tanker makes no logical sense at all.
Therefore, if the Japanese tanker owner does not believe MIke Pompeo, if Tokyo seems unmoved by Pompeo’s narrative and if America’s European partners are also questioning Pompeo’s story, Pompeo not only owes the world a further explanation as to what happened but he also ought to step back from creating unnecessary tensions between Iran and Japan.