When I was the CIA director, we lied, we cheated, and we stole.” – Mike Pompeo
On June 13, 2019, as Ayatollah Khamenei was holding talks in Tehran with Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, two oil tankers carrying oil to Japan were attacked. Though an investigation into the incident had only just begun, Pompeo announced his assessment that the Iranians were guilty. His use of the word “assessment” was all-telling. In the US judicial system, an assessment does not require proof. And as his pal in the Intelligence community, John Brennan, recently boasted, “We don’t do proof.”
Recall that back on May 13 four oil tankers had been damaged in the same area. The United States blamed Iran without any evidence alleging, on the basis of a grainy, blurry video, that an Iranian navy boat had been seen removing mines from the damaged Japanese ship, even though the Japanese owner disputed any evidence of mines.
To understand the full story, we need to go back to Trump’s announcement on April 22nd that America would not renew US waivers for countries which imported oil from Iran. The Iranians condemned America’s illegal demands and said that no other country could take its share of the oil market.
The Trump team claimed that what Iran meant was that they would sabotage any oil tanker going through the Strait of Hormuz. However, Iran was referring to its legal right under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which legally allows it to impede the passage of oil shipments through its territorial waters –the Strait of Hormuz.
While UNCLOS stipulates that vessels can exercise the right of innocent passage, and coastal states should not impede their passage, under the UNCLOS framework, a coastal state, in this case Iran, can block ships from entering its territorial waters if the passage of those ships harms “peace, good order or security” of said state, because the passage of such ships would no longer be deemed “innocent.”
Given Iran’s rights under UNCLOS, it makes no sense for Iran to blow up oil tankers and turn the world opinion against it to favor Trump and his warmongering advisors – Pompeo and Bolton.
But tankers were blown up.
Enter NOPEC – No to Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act. In February, the House passed a bill that would prohibit OPEC from coordinating production and influencing prices.
The Saudis threatened to drop dollar for oil trades to discourage US from passing the NOPEC bill. The Saudi threat came on the heels of the UAE which cautioned that if such a bill passed, it would in effect, break up OPEC.
After Trump announced his Iran oil embargo, a senior US administration official assured the world at large that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would fill any gap left in the oil market. This announcement did not please the Saudis. On April 29th, their Energy Minister made it clear that Saudi Arabia would not rush to boost oil supply to make up for the loss of Iranian oil.
After the second attack on the oil tankers, however, the Saudis changed their mind and agreed to raise their oil production. Once the oil market was satisfied there would be no oil shortage, and the price stabilized, the US resumed its pressure on friend and foe to stop buying Iranian oil.
But then there was the second tanker incident on June 13th and the US once again blamed Iran and discouraged the international community from cooperating with Iran. But hidden from the headlines was the fact that the hike in the price of oil, or at best a stabilizing of price, would signal relief to US shale oil producers. Plummeting oil prices would have harmed or bankrupted US shale-focused, debt-dependent producers.
So, in the words of Pompeo: “We cheat. We lie.” And we will continue to blame the enemy.