As the shadow war between Iran and Israel appears to be heating up at sea, another Israeli-owned vessel reportedly came under missile fire in the Gulf of Oman early Thursday morning, possibly by Iranian forces.
According to media reports, the Liberian-flagged container ship Lori departed from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania on March 21, heading for the port of Mundra on the west coast of India, when it was struck.
Channel 12 news said Iran was suspected of being behind the attack.
The ship, which was reportedly lightly damaged, is owned by the Haifa-based company XT Management Ltd., according to Israel Defense. It continued on its way and was expected to arrive in India Wednesday.
XT Management spokesman Moshe Ronen did not respond to requests for comment.
No one was hurt in the incident.
— Francesco (@FrankCalcagno) March 25, 2021
The alleged attack comes after both Israel and Iran have accused each other of escalating attacks against merchant ships.
On February 26, a blast struck the Israeli-owned MV Helios Ray, a Bahamian-flagged cargo ship, in the Gulf of Oman. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran of attacking the ship. Iran swiftly denied the charge, but experts say the attack bears hallmarks of previous attacks ascribed to Tehran.
The operation seems to have been carefully planned, and mirrored a series of attacks on tankers in 2019 and an Iranian campaign against shipping vessels four decades ago.
Earlier this month, an Iranian investigator told local media that Israel is the likely suspect behind an attack in the Mediterranean that damaged an Iranian cargo ship.
A spokesman for state-run shipping company IRISL told semi-official Nournews that the Shahre Kord cargo ship was slightly damaged by an explosive object but no one on board was hurt.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Israel has targeted at least 12 ships bound for Syria, most of them transporting Iranian oil, with mines and other weapons.
The attacks started in late 2019 and targeted both Iranian vessels, and other ships with Iranian cargo, the report said, citing US and regional officials. Some of the alleged Israeli strikes, which took place in the Red Sea and other areas, targeted Iran-linked weapons shipments, the report said. The attacks did not sink the tankers but forced at least two of the vessels to return to port in Iran.
Israel sought to halt the trade in oil because it believed the profits were financing regional extremists, the report said.
Iran has carried on with its oil trade to Syria in recent years, in violation of both US sanctions on Tehran and international sanctions on Damascus.
Israel declined to comment to The Wall Street Journal on the report.
The alleged attacks mark a new front in the shadow war between Israel and Iran.
In the tense summer of 2019, the US military blamed Iran for explosions on two oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most strategically important shipping lanes.
Iran, whose leaders repeatedly call for Israel’s demise, backs the Hezbollah terrorist group, as well as terror groups in the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli military has launched hundreds of airstrikes in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011 against moves by Iran to establish a permanent military presence in the country and efforts to transport advanced, “game-changing” weapons to terrorist groups in the region, principally Hezbollah.
Iran has blamed Israel for a recent series of attacks, including a mysterious explosion last summer that destroyed an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at its Natanz nuclear facility and the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top Iranian scientist who founded the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program two decades ago.
Tensions have heated in the Middle East in recent months, as Iran repeatedly violated the terms of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers ahead of possible talks with the Biden administration.