Israeli Officials Say Iran Is Behind Deadly Attack on Oil Tanker
JERUSALEM – An oil tanker operated by an Israeli-owned shipping company was attacked off the coast of Oman on Thursday evening, killing two crew members, the company said and three Israeli officials said.
Two of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military matters, said the attack appeared to have been carried out by several unmanned Iranian drones that crashed into living quarters below the command center. or the ship’s deck.
The incident was apparently the latest salute in a phantom maritime war between Iran and Israel, and the first known attack to kill civilians.
Israeli company Zodiac Maritime said the two killed crew members were from Britain and Romania and that on Friday afternoon the ship was sailing under the protection of a US naval escort. A US Department of Defense official said two US Navy ships responded to a distress call but were not escorting the ship.
The U.K. Ministry of Defense said it was investigating reports of an attack on a merchant ship off the coast of Oman but gave no further details, while the U.S. official said the ship appeared to have been struck by a drone, but it was too early to assign responsibility.
Zodiac described the attack as “a suspected piracy incident” aboard the Mercer Street, a 600-foot-long tanker, as it sailed to the United Arab Emirates from Tanzania. The vessel is owned by a Japanese company and sails under the Liberian flag.
But Zodiac, which runs Mercer Street, is run by Eyal Ofer, an Israeli shipping tycoon, which has prompted some analysts to speculate that he may have been targeted by Iranians, even before Israeli officials. identify the drones as Iranian.
A senior Israeli military official called the deadly attack on an unprotected civilian ship at sea an “act of terrorism” by Iran.
Iran has not publicly claimed or denied responsibility.
The ship’s route reportedly took it across a strait between Oman and Iran where several attacks on private ships linked to Israel have taken place in recent months – episodes Israeli officials blamed on Iran.
In early July, a freighter that once belonged to Zodiac was attacked by Iran in the Indian Ocean, according to an Israeli official, who said Iran mistakenly believed the ship was still owned by Zodiac.
Hans Tino Hansen, managing director of Risk Intelligence, a security analysis company that tracks incidents in the Gulf, said: Has been going in the maritime field for the past two years.
Since 2019, Israel has targeted ships carrying Iranian weapons and oil across the Eastern Mediterranean and Red Sea – the latest iteration of a regional phantom war between Iran and Israel that has been unfolding for years across the Middle -East.
Israel has been accused of frequent attacks and assassinations on Iranian soil, mainly targeting nuclear facilities, and it carries out airstrikes against Iran-linked groups fighting in the Syrian civil war and Iranian military bases in Syria .
Iran has armed and funded groups across the Middle East, including Iraq, Syria, Gaza, Yemen and Lebanon, where it supports Hezbollah, a militia, and a state-nominated Shiite political movement. United, the European Union and others as a terrorist group – which has long opposed Israel.
Tensions have grown in recent months as the United States attempted to reinstate a lapsed 2015 deal, which saw Iran pledge to cut back its nuclear program in return for easing foreign restrictions on it. Iranian economy.
Israel opposes any reinstatement of the deal, which Israeli officials say does not sufficiently restrict Iran’s nuclear program or curb its expansionist goals in the region.
Israel is said to have acquired nuclear weapons in the 1960s, although its government has never confirmed this.
An Israeli intelligence official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said the timing of Thursday’s attack suggested Iran is now expanding the scope of its maritime operations.
Previously, Iran had carried out attacks at sea in response to maritime incidents attributed to Israel. Now, the official said, Iran appeared to be using the sea to respond to attacks that Israel has also allegedly carried out against Iran and its allies on land.
Farnaz Fassihi and Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from New York and Jonathan Rosen from Jerusalem.
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