DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — An oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire has been hit by a bomb-carrying drone off the coast of Oman amid heightened tensions with Iran, officials said Wednesday.
The attack on the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Pacific Zircon took place off the coast of Oman on Tuesday night, a Middle East-based defense official told the Associated Press. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to discuss the attack publicly.
Although no one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, suspicion immediately fell on Iran.
General Michael Erik Kurilla, the head of US central command, told the Wall Street Journal that Iran was behind the attack.
“This unmanned aerial vehicle attack on a civilian ship in this critical strait once again demonstrates the destabilizing nature of Iranian malign activities in the region,” said General Kurilla.
An Israeli official, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity to discuss unpublished details of the attack, said it appeared Iran carried out the attack with a Shahed-136 exploding drone. Iran supplied those drones to Russia, which used them to target infrastructure and civilian targets in Ukraine.
“It is an Iranian attack, there is consensus within the Israeli intelligence and defense community,” the official said.
Photos of the Pacific Zircon: pic.twitter.com/pZF4Gziq1g
— Faytuks News Δ (@Faytuks) November 16, 2022
Pacific Zircon is operated by Singapore-based Eastern Pacific Shipping, a company ultimately owned by Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer.
In a statement, Eastern Pacific Shipping said the Pacific Zircon, which was carrying gas oil, was “hit by a projectile” some 150 miles off the coast of Oman.
“We are in communication with the ship and there are no reports of injuries or contamination. All crew members are safe and responsible,” the company said. “There is some minor damage to the ship’s hull, but no cargo was spilled or water entered.”
Tehran and Israel have been embroiled in a years-long shadow war in the wider Middle East, with some drone strikes targeting Israel-associated ships transiting the region.
The US also blamed Iran for a series of attacks off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in 2019, when Tehran had begun to escalate its nuclear program following the United States’ unilateral withdrawal from its nuclear deal with world powers.
The Iranian government has not acknowledged the attack on the Pacific Zircon. The Iranian mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Oil prices rose slightly as word of the attack spread, with benchmark Brent crude trading above $94 a barrel.
It was not immediately clear where the ship was on Wednesday. Late Tuesday satellite tracking data provided by MarineTraffic.com took the ship deep into the Arabian Sea after leaving the Omani port of Sohar.
Since the collapse of the Iran nuclear deal, nonproliferation experts have warned that the Islamic Republic now has enough enriched uranium to make at least one nuclear weapon, though Tehran insists its program is peaceful.
Iran is also lashing out at its perceived enemies abroad amid months of nationwide protests now challenging its theocracy.
Torbjorn Soltvedt, an analyst at risk intelligence firm Verisk Maplecroft, said the attack “comes as no surprise”.
“The risk of attacks on shipping and energy infrastructure in the wider region is increasing, mainly because of the lack of progress in US-Iran nuclear diplomacy and Washington’s decision to apply further sanctions pressure on Iran,” he said. . “Since 2019, Iran has consistently responded to new US sanctions with covert military action in the region.”
“There is not only an increasing risk of disruptive attacks on energy infrastructure in the region, but also a growing risk of a wider military confrontation with more serious consequences for global energy markets,” he added.
The attack on the oil tanker also comes just days before the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. While Doha maintains good relations with Tehran, with whom it shares a huge offshore natural gas field, Israelis will attend the football tournament. Iran’s national team will also face Britain and the US in first-round matches, two countries it accuses of fueling unrest in Iran.