With Iran now suspected of sowing death on the high seas, Israel, Britain and the United States say they are going to do something about it.
For months, Israel and Iran have been engaged in a quiet war on each other’s shipping. An Iranian oil tanker would be damaged, and Israel would get the blame. A merchant ship linked to Israel would be attacked, and Iran would get the blame. Denials would follow accusations with ritual precision.
But Iran took a deadly step to up the ante. Several attacks linked to Iran have involved the use of drones.
On Friday, the oil tanker Mercer Street — operated by a firm owned by an Israeli businessman — was hit while sailing in the Indian Ocean, according to The Times of Israel.
The attack became the first to result in fatalities, with two crew members killed — one British and one Romanian. The Romanian was the ship’s captain.
Image of the damage on Mercer Street. pic.twitter.com/bmqPeOICvZ
— Global: MilitaryInfo (@Global_Mil_Info) August 1, 2021
Initial unconfirmed photos of the Mercer Street. pic.twitter.com/OZirVfqnHx
— Aurora Intel (@AuroraIntel) August 1, 2021
Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the attack and pointed the finger at Iran.
“We join our partners and allies in our strong condemnation of the attack against the Mercer Street, a commercial ship that was peacefully transiting through the north Arabian Sea in international waters. Upon review of the available information, we are confident that Iran conducted this attack, which killed two innocent people, using one-way explosive UAVs, a lethal capability it is increasingly employing throughout the region,” he said in a statement on Sunday.
“There is no justification for this attack, which follows a pattern of attacks and other belligerent behavior. These actions threaten freedom of navigation through this crucial waterway, international shipping and commerce, and the lives of those on the vessels involved,” Blinken said.
He said the book on the incident was not yet closed.
“We are working with our partners to consider our next steps and consulting with governments inside the region and beyond on an appropriate response, which will be forthcoming,” Blinken said.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said, “I determine, with absolute certainty: Iran carried out the attack against the ship,” according to the Jerusalem Post.
“The intelligence evidence for this exists, and we expect the international community will make it clear to the Iranian regime that they have made a serious mistake,” he said. “In any case, we know how to send a message to Iran in our own way. Iran’s thuggishness endangers not only Israel, but also harms global interests, namely freedom of navigation and international trade.”
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the U.K. has concluded that Iran “attacked the MV Mercer Street in international waters off Oman on 29 July using one or more Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.”
Raab called on Iran to “end such attacks, and vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law.”
Iran made it clear that no one in Tehran is losing sleep over the incident or any potential response.
“The Zionist regime has created insecurity, terror and violence … these accusations about Iran’s involvement are condemned by Tehran,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said, according to the Post.
But Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said this attack is a sign of things to come as Ebrahim Raisi prepares to assume power as Iran’s president.
“The threat from the terror regime in Iran will only grow after ‘the hangman of Tehran’ Raisi takes power. The whole world must put up a fortified wall, diplomatically and militarily, against Iran,” Lapid said.