Award winning journalist Gareth Porter believes that the US efforts of blaming Iran for the oil tanker sabotage in the Gulf of Oman “feels way too much like 2003 all over again”. Porter, while writing for Salon, argued that the briefing by Vice Adm. Michael Gilday – the director of the Joint Staff – blaming Iran for sabotaging four oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on May 12 “was a flop, because it was clear to reporters covering it that he could not cite a single fact to back it up”.
After the May 12 incident, the US officials had blamed Iran for the sabotage suggesting that Tehran had either carried the attacks directly or through “regional proxies”. According to Porter, this briefing by Gilday raised a number of questions.
“Nevertheless, the briefing raises a serious question whether National Security Adviser John Bolton intended to use the new accusation against Iran stoke a war crisis — much as Vice President Dick Cheney, in another era, used the argument that Iraq had purchased aluminum tubes for a covert nuclear weapons program to justify the invasion of Iraq. A careful examination of Gilday’s accusations make clear that they do not even claim to be based on any intelligence assessment”, Porter wrote.
You can read the first half of the piece below, whereas the full piece can be found on the Salon website where it was originally posted:
Pentagon’s phony Iran “evidence”: New rationale for U.S. intervention?
Last week a senior Pentagon official accused Iran of having sabotaged four oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on May 12 and of firing a rocket into Baghdad’s Green Zone on May 19. Iran executed these events, he said, either directly or through regional “proxies.”
But instead of creating sensational headlines, the briefing by Vice Adm. Michael Gilday, the director of the Joint Staff, was a flop, because it was clear to reporters covering it that he could not cite a single fact to back it up.
The story got only the most cursory coverage in major news outlets, all of which buried Gilday’s accusation deep in stories about the announced deployment of 1,500 more U.S. troops to the Middle East. Relatively few readers would even have noticed Gilday’s inflammatory claims.
Nevertheless, the briefing raises a serious question whether National Security Adviser John Bolton intended to use the new accusation against Iran stoke a war crisis — much as Vice President Dick Cheney, in another era, used the argument that Iraq had purchased aluminum tubes for a covert nuclear weapons program to justify the invasion of Iraq. A careful examination of Gilday’s accusations make clear that they do not even claim to be based on any intelligence assessment.
Substituting syllogism for evidence
Gilday was apparently chosen to give a non-political patina and the authority of the U.S. military to an accusation that clearly originated with Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In a prepared statement, Gilday declared, “In the recent past, Iranian leaders have publicly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz. They have backed up those threats with actions, posturing their forces in an effort to intimidate the movement of international trade and global energy sources.”
Gilday went on to cite “[r]ecent actions by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, to include attacks against foreign tankers in Fujairah and the attempted covert deployment of modified dhows capable of launching cruise missiles,” calling them “all part of a dangerous and escalatory strategy by Iran to threaten global trade and to destabilize the region.”
During questions and answers, Gilday added that “we believe with a high degree of confidence that this stems back to the leadership of Iran at the highest levels and that all of the attacks that I mentioned have been attributed to Iran through their proxies or their forces.”
When pressed by reporters, however, Gilday simply repeated variants of the argument he had presented in his prepared statement. When a reporter pressed him for evidence to support the accusation, he responded, “So the Iranians said they were going to close the Strait of Hormuz. The Iranians struck those — those tankers. The Iranians struck the — that pipeline facility in Saudi Arabia through their proxies in Yemen. We know that they’re tied directly to the proxies in Iraq that launched the rocket [in Baghdad’s Green Zone].”
Then, when asked by a persistent reporter, “What do you have to back up your case?” Gilday repeated yet again that the Iranians “have said publicly they were going to do things. We learned more through intelligence reporting they have acted upon those threats and they’ve actually — they’ve actually attacked.”
Gilday was thus deploying a crude syllogistic argument (A is true, and B is logically related to A, so B must be true), as the entire basis for the accusation against Iran regarding these two incidents.
But his syllogism was based on a false premise. What a senior Iranian official actually said on April 22 was not that Iran intended to close the Strait of Hormuz unilaterally, but that it would do so in response to any effort to prevent Iran from using it. Alireza Tangsiri, head of the Revolutionary Guard Corps naval force, declared on April 22, “According to international law, the Strait of Hormuz is a marine passageway, and if we are barred from using it, we will shut it down.”
When another reporter challenged Gilday, the admiral finally referred to “intelligence sources that we have.” But when the reporter asked for further clarification, Gilday reverted to another version of the same syllogistic argument based on the idea that the Iranians had “said that they were going to close the Strait of Hormuz.”
Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian, who was the 2012 winner of the Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. His most recent book is “Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.”