A case study in how scary rumour and the “information” from Western intelligence agencies becomes headline news across the world….
On Sunday afternoon, an EA correspondent pointed me to a story in Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine, “Environmental Disaster as a Weapon: Iran Is Planning Tanker Sabotage in the Gulf”. The article’s lead paragraph:
Mohammed Ali Jafari, the hard-line commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and Admiral Ali Fadavi — according to the Western intelligence — have developed a sabotage plan that threatens the entire Gulf and could lead to an environmental disaster. The Top Secret plan, code-named “Murky Waters” and the classification “Top Secret”, would widely contaminate the Strait of Hormuz through a deliberately-caused oil tanker disaster.
According to the supposed plan, Western nations would need Iran’s technical help to clean up the Strait, a vital shipping lane, and restore transport of oil. The Islamic Republic, in return for this assistance, would insist on the lifting of sanctions.
The only problem? The story had no source other than the mysterious “Western intelligence” officials who were feeding it to Der Spiegel. Nor had I seen any hint of this in our daily coverage of Iran.
So I considered the report for about 15 seconds for our Live Coverage before closing the tab and hoping the scary “information” would not surface in other media.
No such luck. The wire services of AFP and Reuters noticed Spiegel’s headline, and Israeli English-language media, including YNet and the Jerusalem Post, were featuring the claim by Sunday evening. This morning, The Independent of London blared, “Iran Accused of Plotting Gulf Oil Spill to Punish West for Sanctions by Poisoning Gulf”.
Within the past hour, Reuters’ Berlin Bureau recycled the story, “Iranians Plan Oil Spill to Block Hormuz Strait — German Weekly”.
None of the stories add any information to the Der Spiegel article. None of them appear to have done any checking of the claims, beyond Reuters’ caveat, “There was no independent confirmation of the report.” None of them appear to have considered the possible complications with the plan, such as the likely international condemnation of Iran’s action — which could complicate any Islamic Republic hope of the lifting of sanctions — or the reaction of Tehran’s fellow members of OPEC.
This morning, I was called by London’s Monocle 24 radio, who frequently cover Iran, about a lunch-time discussion. One of the three items they put for consideration was the “Iranian plan for an oil spill”.
To their credit, Monocle soon accepted my point that their third item — Iran’s possible willingness to negotiate over its uranium enrichment — was far more significant and, indeed, that scare stories such as Der Spiegel’s might be intimidation to undermine or get leverage in any discussions.
So far, however, I have not been called by AFP, YNet, the Jerusalem Post, The Independent, or Reuters. I suspect that this supposed story — because who needs truth when you’ve got a great headline? — may run for some time.
The Iran Project is not responsible for the content of quoted articles.