The head of Iran‘s National Security Foreign Policy Committee said the international community must be wary of “making crises” surrounding the “sabotage” of four commercial ships off the coast of the United Arab Emirates over the weekend, as tensions continue to rise between Iran and the United States.
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When asked about the attack on Monday, President Donald Trump fired a verbal warning to Iran, telling reporters, “We’ll see what happens with Iran. If they do anything, it would be a bad mistake.”
Heshmatollah Falahat Pisheh, the head of Iran’s National Security Foreign Policy Committee, said in an interview with Iranian state media Monday that “Iran and the United States can manage the crisis by themselves.”
“But there are third parties who might make the atmosphere of the region more sensitive in terms of security by making deviant moves,” he said. “There are different groups whose goal is to make the region unsafe. Therefore, there must be red lines between Iran and the United States in the management of the events which prevents third parties from making crises.”
Pisheh said the Islamic Republic of Iran condemns these moves and has demanded the perpetrators be identified.
On Monday, Saudi Arabia’s minister of energy said two of the ships damaged were Saudi oil tankers, one of which “was on its way to be loaded with Saudi crude oil from the [Saudi] port of Ras Tanura, to be delivered to Saudi Aramco’s customers in the United States.” It said there were no casualties and no spillage.
On Monday, Saudi Arabia’s state news agency Saudi Press Agency said the country “condemned the acts of sabotage.”
A Norwegian shipping company confirmed to ABC News that one of the ships it manages, an oil tanker called the MT Andrea Victory, was among the four damaged ships.
The initial assessment by a U.S. military team sent to assist the UAE is that Iran or Iranian-backed proxies placed explosive charges on the four ships anchored off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, a U.S. official told ABC News. The official said each ship sustained a 5 to 10 foot hole at or below the water line.
“We need to do a thorough investigation to understand what happened, why it happened, and then come up with reasonable responses short of war,” U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia John Abizaid said in Riyadh on Tuesday, according to Reuters. “It’s not in [Iran’s] interest, it’s not in our interest, it’s not in Saudi Arabia’s interest to have a conflict.”
The increase in tensions between the U.S. and Iran could be seen in recent statements from European leaders over the past week. U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told reporters in Brussels before talks with Pompeo on Monday that “we are very worried about a conflict, about the risk of a conflict … of an escalation that is unintended,” according to Reuters.
The Iranian reaction comes as The New York Times reported overnight that Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan had presented Trump with a military plan that could see 120,000 troops deployed in the Middle East if Iran were to attack American forces.
However, Dr. Sanam Vakil, senior research fellow at the Middle East & North Africa Programme of Chatham House, told ABC News such moves by the Trump administration should be taken as “bluster.”
“Of course we can see the parallels with the run up to the Iraq war, but … this is a president who lives up to his campaign promises,” she said. “He campaigned on leaving America’s military footprint from the Middle East, not increasing it.”
The Trump administration’s ultimate objective, she said, is to facilitate negotiations with Iran and negotiate a better deal after the U.S. pulled out of the JCPOA — the Iran nuclear deal — last year.
Meanwhile, “Iran are trying to send strong, but also conflicting messages about what their objectives are,” Vakil said, but she said talk of parallels with the situation leading up to the 2003 Iraq War are overplayed.
“I think the context is different,” she said. “Not only does the entire international community have a hangover [from] 2003, [but] the level of awareness of sleepwalking into another conflict that could potentially be much more dangerous and have wider regional implications, particularly those for European security, is making everybody very cautious.”