Warning to Japan? Tanker attacks lead to speculation over who is responsible


Thursday’s attacks on two tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, including one operated by a Japanese firm, led to a fury of speculation over the perpetrators and their motive, as the incidents coincided with a meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Some suggest that the attacks were likely aimed at sending some kind of warning to Tokyo. Japan is working to ease tensions between Iran and the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, which have been escalating since Washington’s withdrawal last year from the 2015 nuclear deal signed between Iran and six major countries including the United States.

In its Wednesday edition, an Iranian newspaper with conservative leanings greeted Abe, who arrived in Tehran the same day to kick off his closely watched visit, with a headline in English and Persian that apparently referred to the U.S.

The headline “How Can You Trust A War Criminal, Mr. Abe?” was printed alongside a picture of a mushroom cloud, evoking the U.S. atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

The message apparently suggested that there is a sense of distrust toward Abe among Iranian conservative hard-liners who have strong anti-U.S. sentiments.

In a telephone interview, Meir Javedanfar, an Iran expert based in Israel, claimed that Tehran is responsible for the tanker attacks.

If Tehran knew that one of the tankers was related to Japan, that would mean the attacks were aimed at indicating that the Iranian regime regards Abe as a proxy of U.S. President Donald Trump and does not trust the Japanese leader, said Javedanfar, who is from Iran.

But it may not be reasonable to think that the attacks were carried out by conservative hard-liners because that could damage the image of the supreme leader, analysts said.

If Iran is not responsible for the attacks, a third party eager to drive a wedge between Iran and Japan, which have traditionally had warm ties, may have been involved, with the aim of urging Tokyo to distance itself from Tehran, they said.