Israel accused Iran of being behind a “drone” attack on an oil tanker that killed two people – a British national and a Romanian citizen – off the coast of Oman.
The tanker, called MV Mercer Street, is operated by London-based Zodiac Maritime, which is owned by Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer.
The company said it was working to establish what happened during the attack, which saw the target ship northeast of the Omani island of Masirah, 185 miles to the southeast. from the capital Muscat, Thursday.
Speaking of Friday, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid blamed “Iranian terrorism” for the attack, saying Tehran “sows violence and destruction”.
The Islamic Republic “is not only Israel’s problem, it is the world’s problem. Its behavior threatens freedom of navigation and world trade, ”he added.
A US official said it appeared a “suicide drone” was used in the incident, raising the possibility that a government or militia was behind the incident.
Mercer Street off Cape Town, South Africa. The oil tanker owned by an Israeli billionaire was reportedly attacked off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea. Two people – including a Briton – were reportedly killed in the attack
Analysts said the attack bore all the hallmarks of tac-a-tat exchanges in the “shadow war” between Israel and Iran, in which ships linked to each nation were targeted in the waters. around the Gulf.
The Israeli official warned that “our campaign against them (Iran) will continue.”
Zodiac Maritime has confirmed that the incident on board the tanker left a Romanian and a British national.
“We are not aware of any harm done to other personnel,” he said in a statement, adding that the Japanese tanker was again under the control of its crew and was heading towards a ” safe place ”undisclosed under US naval escort.
The British victim worked as a guard for the British maritime security company Ambrey, the company said.
The United States, a key ally of Israel and great rival of Iran, has expressed concern and said it is monitoring the situation.
“We are urgently working with our partners, our international partners, to establish the facts,” said a spokesperson for the State Department.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the raid. However, others have also blamed Iran amid the unwinding of Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
The tanker was in the northern Indian Ocean, traveling from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates at the time of the incident.
United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, a Royal Navy alert system for attacks on ships, said an investigation was underway and coalition forces were participating.
Other ships linked to Israel have been targeted in recent months in a shadow war with Iran, with Israeli officials accusing the Islamic Republic of being behind the attacks.
Meir Javedanfar, an expert on Iranian diplomacy and security at Israeli University IDC Herzliya, told AFP news agency that the attack was “most likely Iran”.
Al-Alam, Iran’s state-run Arabic television channel, quoting “regional informed sources” said the attack was a “response to a recent Israeli attack” targeting an airport in central Syria. He did not provide further details.
Oman’s state news agency said the country’s navy sent a ship and confirmed the attack took place outside the sultanate’s territorial waters.
The exact details of how the attack happened have yet to be confirmed.
Javedanfar said the Iranians “feel at a great disadvantage when it comes to responding to attacks inside Iran that have been associated with Israel,” including a strike in April on the enrichment site of uranium from Natanz which was allegedly executed by Israel.
An attack on a maritime vessel “is an area where (the Iranians) think they can at least try to retaliate,” he added, calling the latest strike an escalation in “shadow war” between the two powers of the Middle East.
But he felt that the fundamental dynamics of the rivalry would change little. “Both sides will continue what they are doing,” he said.
Zodiac Maritime is part of the Zodiac group, owned by billionaire Ofer, whose companies cover shipping, real estate, technology, banking and investments.
Ofer was ranked 197th richest person in the world by Forbes this year, with a fortune of $ 11.3 billion. Its companies own and operate more than 160 vessels.
The Arabian Sea and the surrounding Indian Ocean were plagued by piracy a decade ago, but incidents have declined in recent years after foreign navies stepped up their patrols.
Speaking of Friday, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (pictured earlier this week) blamed “Iranian terrorism” for the attack, saying Tehran “sows violence and destruction”
Zodiac initially called the attack on MT Mercer Street a “suspected piracy incident”.
The ship was in the northern Indian Ocean, traveling from Dar es Salaam to Fujairah with no cargo on board at the time of the attack, he added.
United Kingdom Maritime Commercial Operations (UKMTO) – an anti-piracy task force led by the Royal Navy – also released a report of a “vessel under attack” about 152 nautical miles (280 kilometers) offshore from the coasts of Oman.
He called the incident “non-piracy”.
Marine industry analysts Dryad Global said the attack was similar to previous incidents against ships associated with Israel and Iran.
Two ships operated by Israeli company Ray Shipping were attacked earlier this year.
“The attack on MT Mercer Street is now considered the fifth attack on a vessel connected to Israel,” Dryad said in an email note about the incident.
But he said before the deaths were confirmed that the loss of two staff members “would represent a significant escalation of events which … would likely lead to significant international condemnation and require diplomatic redress.”
He informed clients that the risk to commercial vessels associated with Israel and Iran in the Gulf Waterway was “heightened,” underscoring continuing tensions between the two powers over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“Such incidents remain irregular and are very unlikely to impact normal business operations across the region,” he added.
Israel views Iran as its greatest threat, citing hostile rhetoric from Tehran, support for militant anti-Israel groups and growing influence in the region.
The remarks came after a previous report by private maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global referred to a drone sighting involving the ship prior to the attack.
Houthi rebels backed by Tehran and Iran and Yemen have used “suicide” drones in the past. These are unmanned aircraft loaded with explosives that explode on impact with a target.
The British maritime security company Ambrey confirmed that the attack killed one of its team members.
He said he worked with the authorities and offered support to the victim’s family. Omani officials did not respond to requests for comment.
The Sultanate sits at the eastern end of the Arabian Peninsula and lies along vital freight and energy shipping routes crossing the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf.
The deaths mark the first deaths after years of assault on shipping in the region.
Other ships linked to Israel have been targeted in recent months amid a phantom war with Iran, with Israeli officials accusing the Islamic Republic of being responsible for the assaults.
Israel, meanwhile, has been suspected of a series of major attacks targeting Iran’s nuclear program. Iran has also seen its largest warship sink recently under mysterious circumstances in the neighboring Gulf of Oman.
Thursday’s attack comes amid heightened tensions over Iran’s tattered nuclear deal and as negotiations to re-establish the deal stalled in Vienna.
The spate of attacks on ships believed to have been carried out by Iran began a year after US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the deal in 2018.
Iranian media cited foreign press reports on Thursday’s attack but offered nothing more.