Iran is preparing to attack Israeli-owned trading vessels to avenge two Revolutionary Guards advisors killed in alleged Israeli airstrikes in Syria last month, The New York Times reported on Saturday.
The IRGC’s Aerospace Force is gearing up to launch drone attacks on ships sailing through the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea, according to the report, which cited two anonymous senior Western intelligence officials.
An Iranian political strategist linked to the IRGC told the newspaper the planned attacks were in retaliation for the strikes in Syria.
The report came as the US military announced it had dispatched the USS Florida, a nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine to the Middle East to “help ensure regional maritime security and stability.” The show of force comes amid heightened tensions with Iran, which continues to harass shipping and attack oil tankers in the area, including several owned by Israelis.
Washington usually does not disclose the locations of its submarines while they are at sea.
“It is capable of carrying up to 154 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles and is deployed to US 5th Fleet to help ensure regional maritime security and stability,” fleet spokesperson Commander Timothy Hawkins said in a statement.
Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from ships or submarines can hit targets up to 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles away).
Hawkins said the submarine entered the region Thursday and began crossing the canal on Friday.
The move also comes with heightened tensions between Israel and Iran amid a general spike in violence in Israel, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza.
Israel has allegedly launched a series of airstrikes in Syria in recent weeks, including the strike that killed the Iranian military advisers, prompting vows of revenge from Tehran.
Six rockets were launched from southern Syria at the Golan Heights on Saturday night and early Sunday in two separate barrages hours apart, with three landing in Israeli territory, the military said.
After the second barrage, the Israel Defense Forces said it carried out artillery and drone strikes in southern Syria, targeting the launchers that had been used to fire the rockets. Later, Israeli fighter jets carried out additional airstrikes near the capital Damascus.
A local Palestinian militia called Liwa al-Quds, or the Jerusalem Brigade, claimed responsibility for the rocket launches, according to the Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese Al Mayadeen network.
As a general rule, Israel’s military does not comment on specific strikes in Syria, but it has acknowledged conducting hundreds of sorties against Iran-backed groups attempting to gain a foothold in the country over the last decade.
The IDF says it also attacks arms shipments believed to be bound for those groups, chief among them Hezbollah. Additionally, airstrikes attributed to Israel have repeatedly targeted Syrian air defense systems.
Iran, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, claims it only deploys military advisers in the conflict-ravaged country.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Nasser Kanani, accused Israel of bringing “war and insecurity” to the Middle East and of “creating discord in the region.”
Last week, the Israeli Air Force said a drone downed in Israeli airspace was suspected to be Iranian.
The escalation of attacks comes after what appears to be a rare bombing in Megiddo by an armed terrorist who infiltrated from Lebanon into Israel.
While many details of the investigation into the Megiddo bombing are barred from publication, the Haaretz news site cited speculation that the series of airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria could indicate that the IRGC was involved in the latest security incidents.