(Johan Victor via AP)
Mercer Street

Israel seeking international investigation; no countries have condemned attack.

By United With Israel Staff

Israeli defense officials are weighing responses to a deadly Iranian attack on an Israeli-linked ship on Thursday night near the coast of Oman.

The MT Mercer Street was hit by multiple suicide drones, which directly struck the bridge and crew’s living quarters. The ship’s Romanian captain and a British security guard were killed. The ship proceeded to an undisclosed safe port escorted by the US Navy.

The Liberian-flagged Mercer Street is owned by the London-based Zodiac Maritime, which is owned by Israeli shipping tycoon Eyal Ofer.

Iran denied Israeli accusations as “baseless.” Initially, the state-owned Al Alam News reported that it was in response to an Israeli strike in Syria earlier in July that killed a senior figure in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and a Hezbollah commander.

At Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett insisted Iran was responsible and said Israel had proof.

“I now hear that Iran, in a cowardly way, is trying to evade responsibility for the incident. They’re denying it,” Bennett said. “I say this definitively: Iran is behind the attack on the boat.”

“The intelligence materials proving [Iran’s involvement] exist and we expect the international community to make it clear to Iran that they made a grave mistake. We, in any case, know how to convey this message to Iran in our own ways,” the Prime Minister added.

According to Israel’s Channel 13, officials in Jerusalem believe it was in retaliation for a July cyberattack on Iran’s transportation system.  The report said Tehran hopes to raise insurance costs for ships linked to Israel.

With the death of foreign nationals, Israel campaigned for a UN investigation, and a meeting of the UN Security Council. U.S. and British officials are looking over Israeli intelligence, but no country has so far condemned the Iranian attack.

Israel’s Walla News reported that U.S. and British officials are reviewing Israeli intelligence. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid discussed the attack with his U.S., British and Romanian counterparts, Antony Blinken, Dominic Raab and Bogdan Aurescu respectively.

The Mercer Street was was sailing from Dar as Salaam, Tanzania, to Fujariah, in the United Arab Emirates. It was not carrying any cargo.

Reports say the crew heard drone sounds shortly before the explosions.

With this attack, Iran escalated its shadow war with Israel on the high seas. Since 2019, Israel has reportedly attacked numerous Iranian vessels illicitly carrying weapons and oil bound for Syria.

In February, the Israeli-owned Helios Ray was damaged in a mysterious explosion attributed to Iran while traversing the Gulf of Oman. In March, the Israeli-owned Lori was hit by a missile in the same area. In April, the Saviz, an Iranian intelligence-gathering ship, was struck by a mine in the Red Sea. In June, the Kharg, the largest ship in the Iranian Navy caught fire and sank in the Gulf of Oman. In July, Iran attacked the CSAV Tyndall, erroneously believing the cargo ship was also owned by Ofer. The ship had been sold several months earlier.

Iran is known to have transferred drone technology to its allies and proxies, such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Houthis, and Shiite militias in Iraq. But analysts believe that the attack on the Mercer Street was carried out by Iran itself, due to the sophistication of operating several multiple drones and complexity of attacking a moving ship on the high seas.

The attack also comes amidst the backdrop of Iran transitioning to a new administration led by hard-line President-elect Ebrahim Raisi.