ANALYSIS:
Tensions in Middle East escalate after Iranian terror at sea

Iran has changed tactics in the shadow-war with Israel and the US to terrorizing commercial ships in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

Yochanan Visser ,

The Mercer Street, a Japenese-owned, Israeli-managed ship, was attacked near Oma
The Mercer Street, a Japenese-owned, Israeli-managed ship, was attacked near Oma
Johan Victor/Handout via REUTERS

Last week a number of Iranian suicide unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) attacked the oil tanker Mercer Street in the Gulf of Oman.

Officially, Mercer Street is owned by a company in Japan, but Zodiac Maritime, a London-based company, operates the oil tanker. Zodiac Maritime is part of the Zodiac Group, a conglomerate owned by Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer.

Two crew members of Mercer Street died when the suicide drones exploded in the deck that housed the crew of the vessel. One of them was the Romanian captain of the ship and the other was a British security officer.

Iran routinely denied it had anything to do with the major attack on the Mercer Street but that lie was later exposed by the Iranian broadcaster Al-Alam TV.

The Iranian media outlet reported that the UAV attack was a retaliation for an Israeli airstrike on the Al-Dabaa airport near the Syrian city of Al-Qusayr.

That attack occurred on July 22, in a week that the Israeli Air Force (IAF) also attacked other Iran- and Hezbollah-related targets in Syria.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett reacted furiously to the attack and said Israel had the evidence that the drones were Iranian and would share the evidence with other states such as the United States and the United Kingdom.

At the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting Bennett said the following:

“The world recently received a reminder of Iranian aggression, this time on the high seas. The Iranians, who attacked the ship 'Mercer Street' with unmanned aerial vehicles, intended to attack an Israeli target. Instead, their act of piracy led to the deaths of a British citizen and a Romanian citizen. From here, I send condolences to Britain and Romania and, of course, to the families of the victims.

"I just heard that Iran, in a cowardly manner, is trying to evade responsibility for the event. They are denying it. Then, I determine, with absolute certainty – Iran carried out the attack against the ship. Iran's thuggishness endangers not only Israel but also harms global interests, namely freedom of navigation and international trade.

"The intelligence evidence for this exists and we expect the international community to make it clear to the Iranian regime that they have made a serious mistake. In any case, we know how to send a message to Iran in our own way.”

On Tuesday Bennett again addressed the issue during a visit to the Northern Command of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and warned Iran that the time that the Islamic Republic’s regime could “sit peacefully in Tehran and from there ignite the entire Middle East was over.”

Bennett added that Israel was working to bring the international community to its side, including the delivery of intelligence that gave ironclad evidence Iran was behind the attack on the 'Mercer Street'.

The Israeli PM also warned that Israel knows how to act alone against Iran in case the European countries and the US stick to the position that they want only to take political measures against Iran.

Bennett then harshly criticized the European Union for sending its coordinator for nuclear talks to the inauguration of Iran’s new president Ibrahim Raisi.

“Raisi is the most extreme Iranian president of them all, and the competition is tough,” the Israeli leader said before adding the following:

“I call upon the EU: One cannot talk about human rights and simultaneously honor a murderer, a hangman, who has eliminated hundreds of opponents of the regime.”

By calling Raisi a “murderer and hangman” Bennett was referring to the new Iranian president’s role in the random execution of more than 5,000 political prisoners in the eighties of the last century.

At the time the new Iranian president was chief prosecutor of Tehran where the executions of prisoners who were held without receiving any fair trial took place.

On Wednesday, the Israeli ministers of Defense and Foreign Affairs, Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, revealed during a briefing with ambassadors of the countries that currently hold a seat in the Security Council of the United Nations that the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) UAV division planned the attack on the “Mercer Street”.

"Saeed Ara Jani is the head operator of the IRGC Air Force’s UAV system which struck the ship Mercer Street,” Gantz told the ambassadors adding that Ara Jani “provides the supplies, training, plans and is responsible for many acts of terror in the region.”

Lapid pointed out that Iran’s latest attacks on Israel-linked ships “are on international trade routes. This is an attack on freedom of movement. This is an international crime.”

“What is the international community going to do about it? Does international law still exist? Does the world have the ability and the will to enforce it?” Lapid asked.

“If the answer is yes, the world needs to act now,” Israel’s alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister told the ambassadors.

Then there was an additional mysterious incident off the coast of the United Arab Emirates that took place on Tuesday.

According to three maritime security sources, six commercial vessels, among them oil tankers, could have been “hijacked” by unknown pirates.

In one case it became clear that the Panama-flagged asphalt/bitumen tanker Asphalt Princess indeed had been hijacked briefly.

The ship was boarded by hitherto unknown gunmen who didn’t seize the vessel but surprisingly left it not long after they carried out their act of piracy.

Anonymous British sources later said they were “working on the assumption Iranian military or proxies boarded the vessel”, according to the English Times.

The new naval war that Iran launched this year against Israeli targets at sea and which now also targets other ships began in full after the IAF and the Israeli navy attacked Iranian ships bound for Syria with weapons and oil.

The Israeli military attacked the Iranian vessels repeatedly to prevent these illegal supplies.

All this shows that the Iranian threat to Israel and the rest of the world is increasing and that international waterways such as the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman, and the Arabian Sea are no longer safe, especially for Israeli and American ships.

Allies of the US and Israel will now also have to take measures to guarantee free shipping in the international waterways of the Middle East and beyond.

Iran is currently equipping Iranian tankers and other ships with its military unmanned aircraft. These Iranian ships sail as far as Russia and Africa.

In addition, the IRGC has also started installing small UAVs on its large speedboat fleet.

These small ships were regularly used for piracy in the Persian Gulf and to seize foreign tankers under the pretext that they had entered Iranian territorial waters.

Iran considers the Persian Gulf its own territory and has regularly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz a narrow waterway in the Gulf that is used to transport 21 million barrels of oil per day to the West and other parts of the world.

Closure of the Strait of Hormuz will at first surely push the price of oil above $100 a barrel and will then almost certainly cause a dramatic escalation in the conflict between Iran and its multiple enemies.



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