Iran Is Behind Drone-attack on Oil Tanker Off Oman, U.S. Confirms

According to CENTCOM, the ship was struck a one-way attack drone from the Shahed series ■ Senior Israeli security officials claim it was a strategic mistake on Tehran's part, and an apparent attempt to provoke the West ahead of the World Cup in Qatar

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The MT Mercer Street tanker off the coast of the United Arab Emirates yesterday.
Israeli-linked Japanese-owned tanker MT Mercer Street, off the port of the Gulf Emirate of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates, in 2021.Credit: Karim Sahib / AFP

The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) confirmed on Wednesday that the drone that attacked an oil tanker associated with an Israeli billionaire off the coast of Oman was Iranian-made.

Exploitation of the debris that hit the vessel reveals that it was a Shahed-series one-way attack drone, CENTCOM stated.

"The unmanned areial vehicle attack against a civilian vessel in this critical maritime strait demonstrates, once again, the destabillizing nature of Iranian malign activity in the region," said General Michael "Erik" Kurilla, commander of the U.S. Central Command.

The attack happened off the coast of Oman on Tuesday night, the Mideast-based defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity as they did not have authorization to discuss the attack publicly.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, a British military organization in the region monitoring shipping, told the AP “We are aware of an incident, and it’s being investigated at this time.”

On Wednesday, the United States also placed blame on Iran. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the U.S. "condemns in the strongest possible terms the November 15 attack against a commercial tanker, the MV Pacific Zircon, that was transiting in international waters off the coast of Oman. Upon review of the available information, we are confident that Iran likely conducted this attack using a UAV, a lethal capability it is increasingly employing directly and via its proxies throughout the Middle East and proliferating to Russia for use in Ukraine."

Sullivan continued: "There is no justification for this attack, which is the latest in a pattern of such actions and broader destabilizing activities. This action further threatens freedom of navigation through this crucial waterway, international shipping and commerce, and the lives of those on the vessels involved. As President Biden emphasized during his visit to the Middle East region, the United States is committed to supporting the free flow of commerce through its vital waterways. The British Royal Navy was the first to respond, and we express appreciation for the multilateral coordination led by the U.K. 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."

The official identified the vessel attacked as the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Pacific Zircon. That tanker is operated by Singapore-based Eastern Pacific Shipping, which is a company ultimately owned by Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer.

Senior Israeli security officials blamed Iran for the attack, claiming it was a strategic mistake on Tehran's part, and an attempt to provoke the West ahead of the World Cup in Qatar.

They added that the drone used to attack the tanker was the same kind as had been previously sold to Russia by Iran.

According to the officials' initial estimates, the damage to the vessel was relatively light. They confirmed to Haaretz that there were no Israelis on board.

The United States Navy's Fifth Fleet is aware of an incident in the Gulf of Oman involving a commercial vessel, Commander Timothy Hawkins told Reuters on Wednesday.

A phone number for Eastern Pacific rang unanswered Wednesday. Iranian state media did not immediately acknowledge the attack on the Pacific Zircon.

While no one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, suspicion immediately fell on Iran. Tehran and Israel have been engaged in a yearslong shadow war in the wider Middle East, with some drone attacks targeting Israeli-associated vessels traveling around the region.

Last year, a Japanese-owned vessel operated by Zodiac Maritime, owned by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer, was attacked off the coast of Oman, killing two people.

Israeli sources believe an unmanned drone was used in the attack, with the New York Times reporting that multiple drones crashed into the living quarters of the vessels.

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