WASHINGTON - U.S. officials believe Iran encouraged Houthi militants or Iraq-based Shi'ite militias to carry out Sunday's attacks on four tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, two U.S. government sources said on Wednesday.
The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity and who are familiar with U.S. national security assessments, said they viewed the attacks as a serious provocation by Iran which posed a significant threat to shipping.
Iran rejects the allegation of Iranian involvement and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said that "extremist individuals"
in the U.S. government were pursuing dangerous policies. No one has claimed responsibility for the tanker attacks.
One source said U.S. government experts believe Iran gave its "blessing" to the operations, which hit two Saudi crude oil tankers, a UAE-flagged fuel bunker barge and a Norwegian-registered oil products tanker near Fujairah, one of the world's largest bunkering hubs just outside the Strait of Hormuz.
This source said the United States believes the Iranian role has been one of actively encouraging militants to undertake such actions and went beyond simply dropping hints. However, the source indicated the United States does not now have evidence that Iranian personnel played any direct operational role.