TEHRAN (Dispatches) -- Video footage released by the U.S. military to blame Iran for Thursday’s attacks on two oil tankers in the Sea of Oman has been widely disputed even by Washington's allies and Western media.
Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Friday, "The video is not enough. We can understand what is being shown, sure, but to make a final assessment, this is not enough for me."
The boat's Japanese owner also cast doubt on the theory that a mine had been used to attack the ship, telling journalists that members of his crew had witnessed a flying object.
Iran has denied any role in the event, and many observers have raised questions about whether the intelligence was being used as a pretext for the U.S. to escalate conflict with the country.
"Whether it's an attempt to remove Venezuela's democratic government or regime change in Iran, the USA is causing global instability in furtherance of its imperial interests. We must reject the lies being used by the Trump admin to gain public support for their disastrous plans," Chris Williamson, a member of the British parliament with the UK's Labour Party, said in a statement.
Britain on Friday joined the United States in blaming Iran for the attacks, prompting the leader of Britain’s main opposition party to question whether the government had evidence to back up its accusations.
"Without credible evidence about the tanker attacks, the government’s rhetoric will only increase the threat of war,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wrote on Twitter late on Friday.
"Britain should act to ease tensions in the Persian Gulf, not fuel a military escalation that began with U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement,” he said, referring to Washington’s withdrawal from the 2015 pact.
British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt, who is one of the leading candidates to succeed British Prime Minister Theresa May after she announced she would step down, described Corbyn’s comments as "pathetic and predictable”.
"Why can he never bring himself to back British allies, British intelligence or British interests?,” Hunt said.
A second U.S. ally, France, was less committal. While the French Foreign Ministry condemned the attack, it refrained from saying whether its government had assessed the U.S. intelligence or any other evidence.
Meanwhile, European Union officials called for "maximum restraint."
"We are gathering more information and we are assessing the situation," a spokeswoman for the EU's foreign service told reporters.
On Friday, President Donald Trump called the morning television show Fox & Friends and claimed unequivocally that Iran was behind the attack, citing the video released by the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM).
"For any president, accusing another country of an act of war presents an enormous challenge to overcome skepticism at home and abroad. But for a president known for falsehoods and crisis-churning bombast, the test of credibility appears far more daunting,” the New York Times wrote.
"For two and a half years in office, Mr. Trump has spun out so many misleading or untrue statements about himself, his enemies, his policies, his politics, his family, his personal story, his finances and his interactions with staff that even his own former communications director once said ‘he’s a liar’ and many Americans long ago concluded that he cannot be trusted,” it added.
The black and white surveillance video is exceedingly grainy. It purportedly shows several crew members aboard a patrol boat removing an object from the hull of a tanker before the boat then backs up and motors away.
"The video is far too fuzzy to discern what the object is,” the Newsweek magazine wrote.
Independent intelligence experts say the video provides no proof whatsoever of Iran's alleged responsibility for the attacks, a charge Iran denies, it added.
According to the publication, "there are numerous other players in the region with compelling motivations to carry out such attacks.”
"One has to keep asking the question, well, if it isn't Iran, who the hell is it?" Anthony Cordesman, a strategic analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Newsweek. "You come up with the possibility that ISIS carried out the attack as trigger to turn two enemies — the United States and Iran — against each other. Or you're watching Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates create an incident that they can then use to increase the pressure on Iran."
Ayham Kamel, the head of Middle East analysis for the Eurasia Group, an international risk analysis consultancy, said recent attacks by Houthi fighters on Saudi oil installations are now threatening the kingdom's core security concerns.
"The Saudis are alarmed," Kamel told a conference call Friday. "Their response is going to be to try to pressure the U.S. into action."
Others have pointed to the possibility that Thursday's attacks, as well as the attacks on four tankers in the same waters a month ago, were so-called "false-flag" operations carried out by the occupying regime of Israel to make Iran appear responsible, Newsweek said. And some observers have even suggested the attacks may have been directed by hawkish members of the Trump administration as a pretext to launch military operations against Iran, it added.
"The U.S. track record on ginning up evidence for war is not good," William Church, a former military investigator for the United Nations Security Council. "It lied in the run-up to the Vietnam war (by inventing a North Vietnamese attack on a U.S. Navy ship in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964), and it lied about WMD before the Iraq war. So when these tanker attacks happen, we have to ask why and what's the motivation in addition to examining the evidence."
Church pointed to the Trump administration's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal last May, its reimposition of economic sanctions on Tehran and Trump's recent denial of sanctions waivers to eight of Iran's biggest oil customers under the president's policy of "maximum pressure," aimed at forcing to negotiate a new nuclear deal under terms more favorable to the United States. Church also noted that Trump's hawkish national security adviser, John Bolton, has openly called for regime change in Iran.
With regard to the video, Church said much more needs to be known before any conclusions about Iranian responsibility can be drawn. "The video means nothing," he told Newsweek. "We need to know how it was taken, when was it taken, what was the total sequence. Then you'd have to talk to the people in the video to get their view of what happened. I would check to see if the video was doctored. You would need to do everything that a trained investigator would do."
"Drones and limpet mines are a dime-a-dozen out there in the Middle East," he said. "Everybody has them. So we need to know a lot more that what the video shows us."
Morris, who also served for many years as a U.S. intelligence officer in the Middle East and East Africa, said it's not clear why, in the latest attacks, Iran would target tanks belonging to Norway and Japan, two of Iran's best oil customers. "They've been shipping to these countries for decades," he said. "Why would they do that?"