Officials: Drone that hit Israeli-owned tanker near Oman was launched from IRGC base

Western and Israeli security sources say Shahed-136 ‘suicide drone’ was fired at Pacific Zircon from Iranian territory; Israeli source: ‘Iranians no longer hiding behind proxies’

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

A Shahed-136 drone is seen in the sky seconds before it hit buildings in Kyiv, Ukraine, October 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
A Shahed-136 drone is seen in the sky seconds before it hit buildings in Kyiv, Ukraine, October 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

An Iranian explosive-laden drone that struck an oil tanker associated with an Israeli billionaire off the coast of Oman this week was launched from an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps base in Iran, officials said Thursday.

The Liberian-flagged oil tanker Pacific Zircon was struck by a Shahed-136 on Tuesday night, causing damage but no injuries. Pacific Zircon is operated by Singapore-based Eastern Pacific Shipping, which is a company ultimately owned by Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer.

According to a BBC report, a Western official said the drone was launched from the IRGC’s Air Force regional command in the southeastern city of Chabahar.

An Israeli defense source separately told Army Radio that the drone was launched from Iranian territory, saying, “The Iranians are no longer hiding behind their proxies. They have made a mistake and will not be able to evade [blame] for the action.”

Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, the head of United States Central Command, said in a statement that Iran was behind the attack.

“This unmanned aerial vehicle attack against a civilian vessel in this critical maritime strait demonstrates, once again, the destabilizing nature of Iranian malign activity in the region,” Kurilla said.

Liberian-flagged oil tanker Pacific Zircon, operated by Singapore-based Eastern Pacific Shipping in Jebel Ali port, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on August 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Nabeel Hashmi)

Israeli officials, speaking anonymously to reporters, said Iran carried out the attack with a Shahed-136 loitering munition, also known as a suicide drone.

Iran has supplied the same model of drones to Russia, which has been using them to target infrastructure and civilian targets in Ukraine.

CNN on its Arabic-language site on Thursday published an image showing damage caused to the vessel by the strike, and another showing debris from the Shahed-136 drone.

The report said the images were provided to CNN by a Western defense official, but it added that the network could not independently verify their authenticity.

In a statement, Eastern Pacific Shipping said the Pacific Zircon, carrying gas oil, had been “hit by a projectile” some 150 miles (240 kilometers) off the coast of Oman.

“We are in communication with the vessel and there are no reports of injuries or pollution. All crew are safe and accounted for,” the company said. “There is some minor damage to the vessel’s hull but no spillage of cargo or water ingress.”

This undated photograph released by the Ukrainian military’s Strategic Communications Directorate shows the wreckage of what Kyiv has described as an Iranian Shahed drone downed near Kupiansk, Ukraine. (Ukrainian military’s Strategic Communications Directorate via AP, File)

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.

In one such attack in July 2021, Mercer Street, an oil tanker owned by an Israeli businessman, was struck by a Shahed drone, killing a British and a Romanian crew member.

In November of that year, Defense Minister Benny Gantz revealed the locations of two Iranian drone bases that he said were used to conduct attacks against targets at sea, including the one at Chabahar.

The US also blamed Iran for a series of attacks occurring off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in 2019. Tehran at the time had begun escalating its nuclear program following the United States’ unilateral withdrawal from its atomic deal with world powers.

Israeli businessman Idan Ofer taking part seen in September 2010. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Iran’s government did not acknowledge the attack on the Pacific Zircon.

Since the collapse of Iran’s nuclear deal, nonproliferation experts warn, the Islamic Republic has enough enriched uranium to make at least one nuclear weapon if it chose, though Tehran insists its program is peaceful.

Iran also has been lashing out at its perceived enemies abroad amid monthslong nationwide protests now challenging its theocracy.

The oil tanker attack also comes just days ahead of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. While Doha maintains good relations with Tehran, with which it shares a massive natural offshore natural gas field, Israelis will be attending the soccer tournament. Iran’s national team also will face Britain and the US in first-round matches, two countries it accuses of fomenting the local unrest.

“Iran undermines security in the Gulf and, along the way, undermines stability during the World Cup,” an Israeli official told reporters on Wednesday.

The Associated Press and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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