Iran's Missile Attack Hoax

On October 11, 2019, Iran announced that one of its oil tankers was struck by missiles while operating in the Red Sea. Almost two weeks later, exactly what happened to the tanker Sabiti remains unclear, and no independent information has emerged to confirm that there ever was an attack. What is clear is that the official Iranian explanation is nonsensical.

The original Iranian report identified a different Iranian tanker, the Sinopa, as having been struck. At the time of the alleged attack the Sinopa was indeed in the Red Sea, but was some distance away from the Sabiti, sailing in a completely different direction to a different destination. How a report from a tanker stating that it had been attacked was then confused with an attack on a completely different vessel, the Sabiti, remains unexplained.

At the time of the alleged attack the Sabiti had been operating with its maritime tracking system switched off for some two months. The system was reactivated only after the attack was reported. No explanation for the system being deactivated has been offered by the Iranian authorities. Historically, Iranian vessels deactivate their tracking systems when involved in activities that are in violation of international sanctions.

After the report of an attack was transmitted, the Sabiti continued south in the direction of Eritrea for 500 miles. Only then did it turn toward Iran. The vessel’s speed was logged via maritime tracking at 9.6 knots, normal cruising speed for an oil tanker of its class. Neither of these things is consistent with actions to be expected by a commercial vessel that has just been attacked and is in distress.

No request for assistance was made by the Sabiti. No other vessels came to its assistance, including other Iranian vessels. No other ships in the Red Sea reported any indication of an attack, or smoke, or flames.

Following the attack, the official Iranian news agency IRNA released a photo showing what it claimed was the stricken tanker Sabiti. However, the photo published by IRNA was subsequently shown to have been of other incidents in June when the Kouka Courageous, a chemical products tanker sailing under the flag of Panama, and Front Altair, a crude oil tanker under the flag of the Marshall Islands, were attacked in the Gulf of Oman. Photos released of the Sabiti by the Iranian state TV broadcaster IRIB showed no damage of any kind to the vessel.

In the face of myriad questions that emerged concerning the alleged incident, the Iranians backed off on their claim that the Sabiti was hit by missiles. The vessel continued on its way home, leaving an oil slick behind it. Nevertheless, its speed and behavior suggests it was flushed oil, rather than oil leaked from damaged tanks.

The timing of the report of the alleged attack is also highly suspicious. The day before the Sabiti was “hit,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif penned an op-ed in the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-rai. While calling for dialogue amongst all the countries of the Persian Gulf, he also threatened Iran’s regional foes saying that either everybody will enjoy security, "or they will all be deprived of it." Just hours later, in the early morning of October 11th, Iranian state media began reporting on the supposed attack in the Red Sea.

What we have very likely seen, therefore, is yet another example of Iranian propaganda efforts to manipulate world opinion and shape the narrative of what is happening in the Middle East. Rather than seeing Iran for what it is, a hostile power bent on regional domination, we are persuaded to see it as just another victim, a nation desperately searching for peace and security and a nation to which we should reach out.

The reaction of the world press shows just how effective such tactics can be. The story of the alleged attack was picked up by every news organization on the planet and repeated endlessly. Questions about the veracity of the report and the motives behind it were ignored, unlike the innuendo suggesting that the Saudis were at fault. As a result, raw, unadulterated propaganda pumped out of Tehran was beamed into every living room TV and splashed across every computer screen in the world.

Disheartening as this is, it should come as no surprise. Yemen is ablaze and its people are suffering because of an Iranian-engineered and Iranian-supported Houthi insurgency that has just one aim, the destabilization of the entire Arabian Peninsula. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps has exported the Iranian Revolution to Yemen, just as it has to Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. And still the Western press accepts the Iranian narrative that the aggressors in Yemen are Saudi Arabia and the Gulf nations now fighting to support the legitimate government of Yemen.

Because of Iranian propaganda and its constant repetition by the American and international press corps, even the Congress of the United States has accepted the ayatollah’s talking points. The consequence is that one of our most reliable allies in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, is routinely scolded and threatened with arms embargoes and other sanctions.

The truth is this. Iran is a hostile regime with an expansionist agenda. It does not seek coexistence. It seeks to dominate the Middle East and to spread its radical Islamic ideology across the globe. It does not want to reach an accommodation with those who oppose its aggression. It simply wants to destroy them.

Barack Obama’s fantasy that he could reason with the mullahs and reach a negotiated compromise that would end confrontation with the Iranian regime was just that, a fantasy. As long as the current radical theocracy holds power in Tehran we will be faced with a dangerous, destabilizing force in the Middle East. That may be uncomfortable, but that, unlike fictional missile attacks on tankers in the Red Sea, is the truth.

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