Yesterday, Japanese-owned Kokuja Courageous and Norway’s Front Altair vessel were sailing from Saudi Arabia when they were reportedly ambushed in the Gulf of Oman. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was quick to point the finger at Iran for the “unprovoked attack”, claiming the US had made its assessment based on intelligence of the weapon reportedly used and “recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping”. The US later released a blurry video which they said showed Iran removing an unexploded mine from an oil tanker.
However, Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif refuted the claims, claiming Tehran had helped rescue dozens of crew members from the disaster that took place on the world’s busiest oil route.
His words eerily mirror the events that unfolded more than half a century ago that led to the start of the Vietnam War.
Also known as the USS Maddox incident, the event involved two separate apparent confrontations between North Vietnam and the United States in the Gulf of Tonkin.
On August 2, 1964, the US warship was performing intelligence work as part of their DESOTO operations, when it was pursued by three North Vietnamese boats and then attacked with torpedoes and machine gun fire.
For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there
Lyndon B Johnson
The US Navy responded with heavy fire, damaging three boats and killing four North Vietnamese soldiers.
It was then claimed by the National Security Agency that a second incident occurred on August 4, 1964.
However, evidence later showed false radar images, known as the “Tonkin ghosts” and no actual torpedo boats.
Former US Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara later admitted that the August 2 USS attack happened with no response and the August 3 attack never happened.
However, the outcome of these two incidents was the passage by Congress of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.
This granted President Lyndon B Johnson the authority to assist any Southeast Asian country whose government was considered to be jeopardised by “communist aggression”.
The resolution served as President Johnson’s legal justification for deploying US conventional forces and the commencement of open warfare in support of South Vietnam.
His decision came just nine hours after the initial report.
Evidence was still being sought on the night of August 4 when Johnson gave his address to the American public on the incident agreeing to go to war.
Messages recorded that day indicate that neither President Johnson nor Secretary McNamara were certain that an attack had took place.
Mr McNamara also failed to inform President Johnson that the US Naval task group commander – Captain John Herrick – had changed his mind about the attacks earlier that day.
Mr Herrick claimed a “freak weather effect” on the ship’s radar had made the attack questionable.
A year after the incident, President Johnson reportedly admitted to then Press Secretary Bill Moyers: “For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there.”
However in 2005 a sobering study was declassified by the National Security Agency that put all claims to bed.
The Pentagon Papers confirmed no North Vietnamese vessels had been present on August 4, 1964.
Yesterday’s incident could not have come at a more inconvenient time for Iran.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Tehran in an attempt to soften tensions between Iran and the US.
However, the latest incident in the Gulf of Oman could quash any chance of more peace talks if the hostilities end up being linked to Iran.
US President Donald Trump praised Mr Abe for his attempts to mediate the situation, but claimed it was too soon to consider making a deal with Iran.
He wrote on Twitter: “While I very much appreciate PM Abe going to Iran to meet with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, I personally feel that it is too soon to even think about making a deal.
“They are not ready, and neither are we!”
The blasts come a month after four oil tankers were damaged in an unclaimed attack off the United Arab Emirates.
On that occasion, the US also blamed Iran – but Tehran denied the accusations.
Oil prices have jumped more than 4 percent overnight and BIMCO, the world’s largest international shipping association, said the tension in the area are “now as high as it gets without being an actual armed conflict”.
Tensions between the US and Iran have steadily increased in the years since President Trump pulled out of Barack Obama’s nuclear deal that offered Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for assurances it would curb its nuclear weapons programme.
The Trump administration has imposed various sanctions on Iran in the time since in an effort to cripple the country’s economy, and recently announced plans to deploy additional troops to the region.
Despite that, Trump has said in multiple recent press appearances that he is open to talking with the Iranian leadership.
However, Iranian leaders have dismissed the idea out of hand, arguing that Trump is not trustworthy.
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