Israel Has Been Attacking Iranian Ships Carrying Oil to Syria With Divers and Mines
A dozen ships hit since 2019. Suddenly reports of Russian escorts for Iranian tankers, and of "unknown" frogmen sabotaging Syria's oil terminals make a lot more sense
- Somebody Blew Up the Pipeline to Syria’s Main Oil Terminal
- Unknown Frogmen Sabogated Syria’s Main Oil Terminal Last Month Just Before Iranian Tanker Was to Dock
- Russia Transfers Patrol Boat to Syria After Unknown Frogmen Blew Up Pipeline, Disabled Its Main Oil Terminal
- Russian Navy Seen Escorting Iranian Tankers Bound for Syria
- Iran Informs Global Maritime Body of Two New Attacks on Its Tankers, Calls Red Sea ‘Unsafe’
- Iran Says a State Actor Responsible for Attack on Its Tanker, Releases Photos of the Damage
- BREAKING: Iranian Tanker on Fire After “Hit by Missiles” off Saudi Coast
Israel has ta rgeted at least a dozen vessels bound for Syria and mostly carrying Iranian oil out of concern that petroleum profits are funding extremism in the Middle East, U.S. and regional officials say, in a new front in the conflict between Israel and Iran.
Since late 2019, Israel has used weaponry including water mines to strike Iranian vessels or those carrying Iranian cargo as they navigate toward Syria in the Red Sea and in other areas of the region. Iran has continued its oil trade with Syria, shipping millions of barrels and contravening U.S. sanctions against Iran and international sanctions against Syria.
Some of the naval attacks also have targeted Iranian efforts to move other cargo including weaponry through the region, according to U.S. officials.
The attacks on the tankers carrying Iranian oil haven’t been previously disclosed. Iranian officials have reported some of the attacks earlier and have said they suspect Israeli involvement.
Israel hasn’t commented previously on such incidents and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office referred questions to the Israeli military, which declined to comment on any Israeli role in the attacks on the Iranian ships. Iranian officials at the country’s United Nations mission didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Damascus has said disruptions of Iranian oil imports are causing shortages for Syrians. Syria and Iran have denied funding terrorism and say their alliance is aimed at countering such crime.
Israel has also publicly accused Iran of subterfuge and sabotage in recent weeks. Mr. Netanyahu last week blamed Iran for an explosion that ripped through the MV Helios Ray, an Israeli-owned cargo ship. Iran’s Foreign Ministry denied it was behind the attack.
U.S. officials blamed Iran for a string of 2019 attacks on tankers in the Persian Gulf region, some using mines.
Israel’s environmental protection minister, Gila Gamliel, last week also accused Tehran of being behind Israel’s largest-ever ecological disaster, an oil spill of hundreds of tons of tar that covered Israel’s 100-mile plus coastline last month. Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Israel had no evidence to suggest that Iran deliberately caused the oil spill.
Experts say the string of attacks against Iranian tankers has stemmed from perceived inaction by the international community, particularly after Iran broke a promise not to deliver oil to Syria from a seized tanker.
Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank that opposes the Iran deal and urges a hard line against Tehran, said Israel and the U.S. have long set their sights on Iranian oil revenue.
“Israel stepped up the game beyond sanctions to sabotage,” he said. “The Red Sea sabotage is keeping with a broader economic warfare campaign.”
Among the dozen attacks on ships carrying Iranian oil are three such strikes in 2019, according to a shipping professional. Ships used by the Islamic Republic were targeted six times in 2020, according to a second shipping professional, in Tehran.
The second professional said Tehran has kept quiet on the attacks. “We are trying to keep a low profile,” he said. “It would look like a sign of weakness” if Iran complained and failed to react with a military response, he said.
In an episode last month, suspected Israeli operatives attached a limpet mine to attack an Iranian vessel as it anchored near Lebanon to deliver Iran oil to Syria, according to the first shipping professional. Israel’s military declined to comment on the incident.
Limpet mines are typically attached secretly to the hull of ships in port and detonated later, blowing holes in the sides of the vessels.
On Thursday, a Telegram messaging channel close to the Iranian navy posted pictures purporting to show a fire on board an Iranian contained vessel, the Shahr e Kord, near Latakia, Syria. It said the vessel had been attacked by missiles. It couldn’t be determined whether the incident was related to other strikes on Iranian vessels.
The attacks attributed to the Israelis haven’t led to reports of any sunken ships, but the detonations have forced at least two ships to return to port in Iran, thus delaying the delivery to Syria of the fuel on board, Iranian shipping professionals say.
U.S. officials provided tacit U.S. support during the Trump administration for such attacks, according to a person familiar with the matter. The two countries have had a longstanding intelligence-sharing relationship and the U.S. has backed prior Israeli strikes in Syria.
At the very least, there is no indication the U.S. would stand in Israel’s way, analysts said.
“As long as the [Biden] administration believes the Israelis are remaining below the threshold of major escalation or conflict, I don’t think they are going to get in the way of things Israel feels it needs to do to protect itself,” said Ilan Goldenberg, a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security in Washington.
Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, met virtually Thursday with Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat to discuss a range of issues, with matters involving Iran a centerpiece of their discussions, officials said.
Source: The Wall Street Journal