Iranian ships and sabotage attacks

The WSJ published an exclusive article on covert Israeli targeting of Iranian ships and shipments going to Syria.

I've made a first draft of a timeline of notable events, of maritime incidents occurring to Iranian ships or those connected to Iran in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Red Sea, as well as the timeline of sabotage attacks in the MEG / Arabian Sea / Gulf of Oman region. 

Figure 1
Figure 1

Obviously, there is still chunks of data / information missing on particular events, given the numbers of attacks cited in the WSJ article:

  • 3 in 2019
  • 6 in 2020
  • 3(?) in 2021

One ship that I did not specifically list is the Iranian connected, Panama flagged tanker 'Emerald', which the Israeli Environmental ministry recently accused of being the source of the catastrophic oil spill off the Eastern Med on the 16th of February, causing the worst environmental disaster in the country’s history. It is probable that this was not another targeted ship, although as it stands, Israel has not commented on the WSJ report. 

It was certainly a little more than unusual for Israel to issue a news embargo on the name of the ship. The 'Emerald' had indeed headed to Syria from the Suez Canal, yet managed to carry out an STS off Syria, without a hitch and also return to Suez without any noticeable traces of causing pollution. It sure gets weirder.

Strange and a bit more than a coincidence that this 'bombshell' revelation is made by US officials no less! But, the WSJ alludes to an attack, that incredibly, matches the description of the incident suffered by the 'Emerald':

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.

The WSJ exclusive makes for an interesting shift in perspective on maritime dodgy going ons in the Middle East and clearly demonstrates the reckless hubris of Israeli military operations, (putting both feet at the same time in the mouth), that proved to have a much greater and significant consequence for the whole region.

In light of this revelation of the clandestine operations, maybe a revaluation of the series of sabotage attacks in the Arabian Sea back in 2019, is also needed.

Not surprising that Israel has carried out naval operations against ships carrying Iranian oil bound for Syria and also cargo ships suspected of circumventing weapons sanctions. This MO fits in with its overall posture towards Syria and Iran, principally in carrying out air strikes against what it sees as "Iranian regime" units operating in Syria.

This highlights just the tip of the iceberg so to speak, in a barely concealed war against Iran. These Israeli operations are a clear expansion of hostilities in the Mideast, so maybe Washington drew a line in the sand by allowing the officials to mention the covert action.

Noticeably, the exclusive report came a day after an alleged attack on an Iranian containership far off the northern Israeli coast on the 10th March.  The 'Shahr e Kord' was heading to Syria, when a fire broke onboard, with several containers on the bow heavily damaged.  The ship did slow down and change course, (but eventually went to Baniyas, (next to the Russian naval base, so it may have been inspected by the Russian military). The ship operator, IRISL, called it“terrorist act”. 

  "After an explosive object hit the hull, a brief fire broke out...which was immediately contained by the timely efforts of the captain and crew of the ship".
AIS screenshot
AIS screenshot
AIS screenshot of track at time of incident
AIS screenshot of track at time of incident

There are comments suggesting that this was some kind of response to the attack on the Bahamian flagged but Israel-owned MV 'Helios Ray' RO-RO vehicle carrier in the Gulf of Oman, since the timing between the two is relatively close.  Having said that, it doesn't make much sense in relation to the 2019 tanker attacks with limpet mines, because these happened before the suspected attacks on the Iranian tankers in the Red Sea. Unless...

Yet, surmising that the attack on the MV 'Helios Ray' could be equally considered as retaliatory operations, which Iranian ships got attacked beforehand? 

The 2019 attack on the 'Sabiti' fits into the pattern of an attack which caused a 200+ km long oil spill in the Red Sea, as can be seen in this image.

More information and analysis of this later as any details come to the fore.


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