According to a report by Israel’s Channel 12, an Iranian missile struck an Israeli-owned cargo ship in the Arabian Sea on Thursday. The ship sustained little damage and continued on its way to India.
The sea war between Israel and Iran has been heating up in recent weeks. Israel has attacked a dozen Iranian oil tankers in the last several months, causing billions in damages.
Last month, a ship owned by an Israeli firm, the MV HELIOS RAY, was hit by an explosion in the Gulf of Oman. Israel estimated that the explosion was a targeted attempt against an Israeli-owned ship by Iran.
Iran denied involvement at the time. “We strongly reject this accusation,” Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Tehran.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Israel and Iran have been trading blows at sea since at least 2019.
Since late 2019, Israel has used weaponry including water mines to strike Iranian vessels or those carrying Iranian cargo as they navigate toward Syria in the Red Sea and in other areas of the region. Iran has continued its oil trade with Syria, shipping millions of barrels and contravening U.S. sanctions against Iran and international sanctions against Syria.
Some of the naval attacks also have targeted Iranian efforts to move other cargo including weaponry through the region, according to U.S. officials.
The attacks on the tankers carrying Iranian oil haven’t been previously disclosed. Iranian officials have reported some of the attacks earlier and have said they suspect Israeli involvement.
The U.S. has gone to court to seize many of those tankers which it alleges are in violation of sanctions on both Iran and Syria. “The purpose of the Iranian operations are to circumvent sanctions on both Iran and Syria to fund IRGC, these court cases say. Such tankers often carry hundreds of millions of dollars worth of oil,” reports the Journal.
Iran has become an expert at evading sanctions, especially with regard to its oil industry which has nearly collapsed because of mismanagement, corruption, and a lack of maintenance.
Shippers often declare false destinations, use old, rusted tankers to avoid notice, and sometimes transfer oil from one ship to another at sea to avoid detection, regional military officials said.
Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, says “Israel stepped up the game beyond sanctions to sabotage,” he said. “The Red Sea sabotage is keeping with a broader economic warfare campaign.”
With tensions rising in the region and pressure building on Joe Biden to confront Iran over their nuclear program, it’s a distinct possibility that the war at sea between Iran and Israel could expand quickly. Iran’s unpredictability makes a general war more likely as time passes.