Two mariners were killed in an alleged Iranian drone attack on a ship managed by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer's shipping company in the Northern Indian Ocean on Thursday night, Channel 13 reported.
The allegation that Iran used a drone to attack the vessel was made by an unnamed Israeli official on Channel 13. “There is an Iranian terrorist attack here, two innocent people were killed,” said the anonymous source, “The Iranians attacked the ship with an unmanned aircraft. An innocent ship with innocent dead. "
According to Iranian news outlet al-Alam, the attack was in response to an alleged Israeli airstrike which targeted the Dabaa military airport in the Homs governorate of northwestern Syria.
IRAN HAS been practicing using drones at sea in recent drills and operations, and has tested drone and missiles for precision attacks. Iran has also outfitted IRGC fast boats with small drones that can be launched from the boats. Hours after the first reports of the attack on the tanker, the Saudis said they thwarted a drone attack on a ship as well.
The picture emerging is that Iran was behind the attack and that it was sophisticated. Iran has previously been careful about using drones to kill people. In September 2019 it used more than a dozen drones and cruise missiles to attack Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq facility, but no one was killed. In Iraq the Iranian drones have not killed US personnel, but have targeted a CIA hangar.
What this means is that this is a potential gamechanger. While there have been numerous incidents at sea in the last six months, the overall goal of those carrying them out appears to be to avoid casualties. Iran, for instance, likely mined ships in May and June 2019 in the Gulf of Oman, but no one was killed. The question will be how countries that have now been threatened may respond.
The fact that a drone attacked an oil tanker is also an escalation from attacks on commercial cargo ships. “At the time of the incident the vessel was in the northern Indian Ocean, travelling from Dar es Salaam to Fujairah with no cargo on board,” Zodiac said of the incident. The fact that the ship had no cargo may mean that whoever planned the attack didn’t want to risk a major oil spill. However, the fact they killed two people would appear to point to a murderous act. Whether the international community and local naval powers will take this seriously remains to be seen.
Deadly attack on Israel-linked tanker is major escalation - analysis
The attack on the Mercer Street tanker off the coast of Oman is a major escalation in an ongoing series of attacks on shipping that have increased this year. The ship is reportedly operated by Zodiac Maritime and reports say a UK and Romanian crewmember were killed. The attack may have been carried out by a drone. Pro-Iran forces have used drones to attack US forces in Iraq, and Iran has trafficked drones and drone technology to the Houthis in Yemen, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iraqi militias. Iran has also used drones to try to attack Israel in February 2018 and May 2021 from Syria.
The incident in the Gulf of Oman or Arabian Sea, which is the same area, was apparently carried out by a kind of kamikaze drone. Iran has used these types of drones, sometimes called Ababil or Qasef when they are assembled by the Houthis in Yemen. Devices found in drones used by pro-Iran groups to attack Saudi Arabia and other countries in Yemen and other places have been linked to Iran in the past. For instance, these include gyroscopes on Shahed 123 drones. In May and June 2019 Iran also allegedly used mines to strike at six ships in the Gulf of Oman, badly damaging one. In prior incidents no one has been killed.
WHAT HAS marked these reports is that no one has been killed. That changed on July 30 with the reports that two were killed in the recent attack. The use of a drone was also a major escalation. Ship operator Zodiac Maritime has put out a statement about the attack, which described the attack as piracy. However, the use of a drone would indicate a state sponsor, since most non-state actors do not have advanced drone technology capable of targeting ships and killing people.
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