An oil tanker is on fire in the sea of Oman, Thursday, June 13, 2019. Two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz were reportedly attacked on Thursday, an assault that left one ablaze and adrift as sailors were evacuated from both vessels and the U.S. Navy rushed to assist amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran. (AP Photo/ISNA)
Source: Before tanker attack, Iran fired at U.S. drone
02:39 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is blaming Iran for last week’s attack on two ships in the Gulf of Oman, calling on the international community to take a “firm stand towards an exponential regime that supports terrorism and spreads killing and destruction.”

Washington blames Tehran for the Thursday attacks on the tankers and accuses Iran of engaging in additional aggressive behavior before and after the incidents. Iran has vehemently denied any involvement.

In an interview with the Saudi-owned Arabic daily Al-Sharq Al-Awasat published Sunday, the crown prince – also known as MBS – asserted that Saudi Arabia “does not want a war in the region,” but stressed that the kingdom “will not hesitate in dealing with any threat to its people, sovereignty and vital interests.”

In reference to Thursday’s attack on two oil tankers along the Gulf of Oman, MBS told the Arabic daily that the Iranian regime disrespected Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe while he was a guest in Tehran by “answering his efforts with an attack on the two tankers, of which one is Japanese.”

The Saudi crown prince also added that the kingdom plays an important role in the international community by “securing the delivery of oil supplies to safeguard the stability of the international economy.” He also asserted that while he is certain that the kingdom’s strategic relations with the US would not be affected by “media campaigns or some stances here and there,” these campaigns “do not serve the common goals of our countries.”

In response to days of accusations, Iran’s parliament speaker Ali Larijani accused the US of carrying out “acts of sabotage” against the two tankers in an effort to pressure Tehran, according to Iranian state-funded Press TV.

“Suspicious acts in the Sea of Oman against oil tankers… seem to be supplementary to the [US] economic sanctions as the Americans went nowhere with the sanctions, [also,] especially, given America’s historical record in the area [of false flag ops],” Larijani said during a parliamentary session on Sunday.

The country’s Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador to Tehran in “protest” at the UK’s stance on the attacks in the Gulf of Oman, state-run Press TV said Saturday.

In a statement Friday, Britain’s Foreign Office said it was “almost certain” that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were behind the attacks. The statement said no other state or non-state actor “could plausibly have been responsible.”

During the meeting, the British ambassador was asked to explain the UK’s “unacceptable position”, Press TV reported. “We remind the British government of the necessity to revise its approach and to adopt realistic positions based on the realities of Islamic Republic of Iran’s policies,” Head of the Europe Department at the Iranian Foreign Ministry Mahmoud Barimani said, according to Press TV.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks about the tanker attacks at the State Department on  Thursday.

Fodder for Iran hawks

President Donald Trump seems convinced that Tehran was responsible. “Iran did do it and you know they did it because you saw the boat,” he said, appearing to refer to the images and video released by the Pentagon late Thursday.

The attack could provide more fodder for Iran hawks within the US administration, whose recent Iran saber-rattling has frustrated Trump. One of them, national security adviser John Bolton, announced last month that the Pentagon was deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the Middle East in response to a “number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Iran.

The United States has also blamed Iran for a similar attack on four oil tankers last month that occurred in the Gulf of Oman, claims that Iran also denies.

US Central Command said an Iranian surface-to-air missile was fired at a US drone that arrived to surveil the aftermath of an attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

The missile – a modified Iranian SA-7 – missed the MQ9 drone, spokesman Lt. Col. Earl Brown told CNN on Saturday.

“Subsequent analysis indicates that this was a likely attempt to shoot down or otherwise disrupt the MQ-9 surveillance” of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps attack Thursday on one of the tankers, Brown said.

The drone arrived at 6:20 a.m. local time and observed one of the two ships, the Norwegian-owned Front Altair, on fire, Brown said.

The missile was fired at the drone about 25 minutes later, at 6:45 a.m., as the drone was surveilling the aftermath of the attack on the second ship, the Japanese tanker Kokuka Courageous, he said. The closest the missile got to the drone was about 1 kilometer (0.6 miles), Brown said.

In the hours before the attack, the Iranians also fired a missile at a US drone flying overhead, but it missed, a US official told CNN.

The United States has released video footage it says shows an Iranian patrol boat removing an unexploded mine from one of the vessels’ hulls. The Pentagon says the video shows Iranians returning to the scene of the attacks to remove evidence of their involvement.

But the president of the company that owns the Japanese tanker said he believes there’s “no possibility of mine attack” owing to the attack being “well above the naval line.” The company president said a crew member who witnessed one of the blasts reported seeing a “flying object.”

Twenty-three crew members from the Front Altair, meanwhile, have arrived in Dubai after first being taken to Iran, the shipping company that owns the tanker said Saturday.

The crew includes 11 Russians, one Georgian and 11 Filipinos.

A picture obtained by AFP from the Iranian news agency Tasnim shows what they say are some of the crew of the oil tankers.

The CEO of the shipping company Frontline, Robert Hvide Macleod, said the captain made the decision to evacuate the ship after it was attacked. The Iranian navy eventually picked up the crew and took them to the Iranian port of Jask, he said.

The Front Altair itself remains in the Gulf of Oman. Earlier, a US official said Iranian small boats were preventing tug boats from towing away one of the damaged tankers. But Frontline spokesman Pat Adamson told CNN they were not aware of any type of obstruction around its vessel since the time of the attack.

A specialist team will now inspect the vessel for a full assessment of the condition and damage, Frontline said.

CNN’s Zachary Cohen and Vasco Cotovio contributed to this report.