Attacks on oil tankers, cargo ships and other vessels have risen sharply over the past six months, and shipping and security experts fear an undeclared maritime conflict between Israel and Iran could destabilize some of the world’s busiest trade routes.
At least 20 civilian ships were attacked by mines, drones and commandos in the shadow war The rapid escalation between Tehran and Tel Aviv, according to an analysis published by the British newspaper, The Telegraph.
The analysis revealed a sharp rise in attacks on ships since 2019 amid warnings of an increased risk of open war, as the attack on the tanker “Mercer Street” was the latest in a series of explosions targeting Israeli and Iranian cargo ships.
Also, last week’s shadow war turned deadly for the first time, when an Iranian kamikaze drone killed two people, Mercer Street crew members, the ship’s captain, a Romanian national, and a British national who was part of the security unit.
The report pointed out that the Shadow War, as its name suggests, is shrouded in ambiguity and has not yet been recognized by Israeli and Iranian leaders.
Photo courtesy of The Times of Israel, the Israeli ship in the Arabian Sea
But it seems to have started in earnest on May 2, 2019, not far from the Red Sea coast, where the Iranian tanker “Habbiness 1” suddenly lost control of its engine.
Since then, other ships linked to Iran or Israel have been bombarded with missiles, attacked with mines, or fallen victim to mysterious explosions with increasing frequency.
The analysis also revealed that in 2019, there were three reports of attacks on ships linked to Israel or Iran, although details of the incident were scant at the time.
6 attacks on Iranian ships in 2020
In 2020, Iranian ships were attacked at least six times.
Incidents have risen since February of this year, when Israel accused the Emerald tanker of carrying out an “environmental terrorist attack” by deliberately and illegally pouring oil, flooding 100 miles of Israeli shores.
Mohsen Baharvand, Iran’s ambassador in London, said last week that Iranian cargo ships had been subjected to 11 Israeli attacks this year.
The Mercer Street tanker (file photo: Reuters)
Also, three attacks were announced on the container ship “Shahr Kord”, the intelligence cargo ship “Saviz” and the tanker “Wisdom”.
4 Israeli ships were attacked
In contrast, four ships linked to Israel, including the Mercer Street, were bombed in the same period.
An Israeli-owned commercial vehicle carrier, Hyperion Ray, was attacked near the UAE port of Fujairah, a day after Iran accused Israel of being responsible for an explosion at the Natanz nuclear facility on April 12.
Also, the Helios Ray was subjected to explosions in the Gulf of Oman last March, which led to the formation of large holes just above the waterline.
The Iranian ship Khark (Archive – Reuters)
It is noteworthy that during the past months, Israel and Iran have publicly exchanged accusations of targeting commercial ships in the deep sea, in a new page of shadow wars between the two sides, after targeting nuclear sites inside the country, or military sites in Syria.
Western reports had revealed earlier that Israel had targeted at least 12 Iranian oil tankers or carrying Iranian oil bound for Syria during the past two and a half years.
The Wall Street Journal also reported in a previous report, based on statements by US and regional officials, that since late 2019, Israel has used weapons, including naval mines, to strike Iranian ships or those carrying Iranian cargo while they were heading to Syria, in attacks carried out in the Red Sea and in other areas of the region.