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Despite what the Saudis and blowhards like Benghazi Mike keep alleging, the Houthis don’t take orders from Iran and don’t have that much to do with one another. (Photo: Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

Despite what the Saudis and blowhards like Benghazi Mike keep alleging, the Houthis don’t take orders from Iran and don’t have that much to do with one another. (Photo: Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

Whatever Pompeo Says, There Is No Certainty Iran Mined the Tankers

It was clear that Trump warmongers would blame Iran and then use the incident as a springboard to war

Juan Cole

 by Informed Comment

The mysterious mines that blew up two tankers, one of them Japanese-owned and operated, on Wednesday, sent a frisson of fear through the Gulf, since it was clear that Trump warmongers would blame Iran and then use the incident as a springboard to war.

Despite the confident pronouncements of “Benghazi Mike” Pompeo at his brief news conference, the fact is that US intelligence hasn’t had time or access to come to a firm conclusion about the author of the mine attack.

Pompeo’s people put out grainy video of some sort of small ship coming alongside one of the tankers and then leaving peacefully. Since this doesn’t look very much like an attack, they are alleging that the Iranians were taking away an unexploded mine. That doesn’t make any sense at all, and the video again needs to be carefully analyzed.

Pompeo alleged that only the Iranians had the expertise to deploy these mines.

We heard this crock for 8.5 years in Iraq– all shaped charges had to be Iran-backed, even those of al-Qaeda, because Iraqis didn’t have the expertise. Shaped charges are a simple WWII technology and the US invaded Iraq out of fears it was so sophisticated that it could construct an atomic bomb. But Iraqi Sunnis couldn’t make a shaped charge. Sure. Had to be Iran, helping those hyper-Sunni al-Qaeda. Very likely story.

In Iraq War days I was told that the Rumsfeld Department of Defense put out so much such arrant nonsense as anonymous news articles planted in the Iraqi press that some Defense Intelligence Agency analysts used to read my blog, confident that I would suss our the psyops horse manure and give an accurate picture. The Bush administration produced so much fake news about Iraq that Bush analysts were in danger of being fooled by it and recommending policy on the basis of it!

So about the allegation that no other forces could have deployed mines in the Gulf area.

Just last December, 86 mines were swept in the Red Sea, the planting of which was attributed to the Houthi rebels of Yemen. The Straits of Hormuz might see far away. But once they’re already on the sea in a small ship, all they’d have to do pack some mines and ply the waters off southern Yemen and Oman over to the Straits of Hormuz, and they could have easily committed this act.

The Houthis have been intensively bombed for four years, with about a third of the targets having been civilian.. Most of the sorties against them have been flown by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the aggressors in the war on Yemen. They do not have an air force and have had to watch helplessly for 48 months as fire fell on their women and children. Some 233,000 Yemenis have been killed in the war, and while the Houthis are responsible for some of those deaths, the Saudis and UAE are responsible for the lion’s share.

The Houthis have in recent weeks tried increasingly to take the fight to the enemy. They droned an oil facility, struck an airport with a rocket, and made incursions over to the Saudi side of the border, claiming, at least, to have taken some villages. That to accompany this pushback and press the Saudis to stop bombing and dicker, they might also try to target some tankers is perfectly plausible.

Despite what the Saudis and blowhards like Benghazi Mike keep alleging, the Houthis don’t take orders from Iran and don’t have that much to do with one another. Zaydi Shiites like the Houthis don’t even have ayatollahs; you can’t just read off politics from common Shiism, anyway, but in this case they aren’t even from the same sect. It would be like assuming that all Methodists would line up politically behind the Baptists because both are Protestants. Iran has slipped some help to the Houthis, maybe a few million dollars worth. Trump says he’s selling $110 billion worth of arms to the Saudis. So US help to Saudis is probably on the order of 10,000 times greater than Iranian aid to the Houthis.

Anyway, I admit that Houthi activity over in the Arabian Sea near the Gulf is a bit of a stretch, but it just isn’t impossible.

I don’t allege false flag attacks. They are rare, since too many possibilities for someone to blab or blow the whistle exist. But that the Houthis would and could take such an action would make sense.

It could also be by Iran, of course. I disapprove of violence, and denounce the attack on civilian tankers. But any reporter who reports that Iran might be the culprit is dishonest to Trumpan depths if they neglect to mention that that the US is stopping 100% of Iran’s oil exports with no warrant of international law, no resolution from the UN Security Council, and in direct contradiction of US obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which Trump breached. A physical blockade of Iran would be an act of war. I don’t see why a financial blockade should be looked at as any different. Trump has committed numerous acts of naked aggression on the Iranian people. I don’t condone a violent response, but anyone should be able to understand it.

© 2021 Juan Cole
Juan Cole

Juan Cole

Juan Cole teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan. His newest book, "Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires" was published in 2020. He is also the author of  "The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East" (2015) and "Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East" (2008).  He has appeared widely on television, radio, and on op-ed pages as a commentator on Middle East affairs, and has a regular column at He has written, edited, or translated 14 books and has authored 60 journal articles. 

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