Iran behind drone strike on Israeli-owned tanker, US says

Iran was behind the drone attack on an Israeli-owned commercial diesel tanker in the Gulf of Oman last night, the US government said today, echoing statements by Israeli officials.

“Upon review of the available information, we are confident that Iran likely conducted this attack using a UAV [drone],” the Biden administration’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.

Examination of the drone debris aboard the MV Pacific Zircon revealed it had come from an Iranian-made one-way attack drone of the Shahed seriesthe US military said.

Israeli officials were cited earlier today in reports as saying the vessel was targeted by a Shahed-136. No one was reported hurt in the attack and no fuel spilled, the ship’s owner, Singapore-based Eastern Pacific Shipping, said following the incident. The firm is owned by Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer.

The British Royal Navy frigate HMS Lancaster was the first to respond to the scene last night following the strike, which occurred at about 10 pm local time, just one day after the Pacific Zircon left port in Oman.

The US Navy’s USS The Sullivans and USS Chinook, as well as a P-8 Poseidon aircraft also responded to the crew’s distress call. US Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, confirmed no casualties occurred in the strike but noted unspecified damage to the tanker ship.

“This unmanned aerial vehicle attack against a civilian vessel in this critical maritime strait demonstrates, once again, the destabilizing nature of Iranian malign activity in the region,” CENTCOM commander Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla said in the statement.

The strike is part of a pattern of covert Iranian attacks on tankers owned by Israeli businessmen in recent years. In February 2021, the MV Helios Ray suffered an explosion believed to have been caused by a limpet mine.

That August, the Romanian captain and a British security officer onboard the Mercer Street tanker were killed by a drone in an attack in which Iran was “actively involved,” the US military said at the time.

In March, Iranian ballistic missiles struck a compound outside of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, which Iranian officials allegedly was used as a training facility by Israeli intelligence.

Israel is believed to be behind a string of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists and continues a steady pace of nighttime airstrikes targeting militias in Syria thought to be trafficking Iranian weapons.

Last week, at least 10 were said to have been killed when a fuel convoy that had just crossed into Syria from Iraq was bombed from the air. The US denied responsibility for the strike, leaving suspicion to fall on Israel. Israeli officials rarely comment on the campaign.

US defense officials say they remain in constant contact with Israeli counterparts over the potential for escalation in Syria, where some 900 US troops remain somewhat vulnerable to drone and rocket attacks from Iran-backed militias.

Tehran’s proliferation of cheap one-way attack drones has become a headache for the US military and Arab states as well, most of whose air defenses were designed to target larger projectiles such as ballistic missiles or manned aircraft.

Iran has provided dozens of Shahed-136s to Russia for use in the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine, a move that has spurred new US and EU sanctions.

Still, there are concerns in Western capitals that Tehran could send more drones and possibly ballistic missiles that could further enable Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian electrical, water and gas infrastructure as winter approaches.

“We will work with partners and allies, including as part of the International Maritime Security Construct, to hold Iran accountable and respond through appropriate means,” Sullivan said today in reference to Iran’s attack on the Pacific Zircon.