On Thursday, multiple "one-way explosive UAV" or suicide drones made a deadly strike on an oil tanker near Oman, killing two men—the Romanian captain and a British security guard.
The commercial ship, Mercer Street, is Japanese-owned and was flying a Liberian flag. The vessel is managed by a firm in London owned by Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer.
Israel quickly determined the lethal attack was the handiwork of Iran. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday issued a stern warning. "Iran knows the price that we will exact when anyone threatens our security. They can't sit calmly in Tehran while igniting the entire Middle East—that's over. We are working to enlist the whole world, but when the time comes, we know how to act alone."
Over the weekend, the US and UK were hesitant to point the finger at Iran. But, mounting evidence that the Islamic Republic was behind the attack and that the target was Israel finally led US, UK, and Romanian officials to call for action.
"Upon review of the available information, we are confident that Iran conducted this attack which killed two innocent people, using one-way explosive UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), a lethal capability it is increasingly employing throughout the region," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. "There is no justification for this attack."
The US Navy responded to the Mercer Street's distress call, and explosive experts reported finding "clear visual evidence than an attack occurred" buy a "drone strike" that slammed into the ship.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also confirmed it was "highly likely" Iran was to blame. "We believe this attack was deliberate, targeted, and a clear violation of international law by Iran. The UK condemns the unlawful and callous attack…Iran must end such attacks."
Both US and UK officials indicated they were working with "partners" on a response to Iran's deadly provocation, which not only cost the lives of two men but threatens the stability of international commercial shipping in the region.
Romania also promised a response with "partners" for the attack. The UK and Romania summoned their respective Iranian ambassadors for a meeting.
Iran officially denies responsibility for the attack, calling the claim "baseless" closed and rejected taking part in the "blame games" of Israel. However, the state-owned Iranian news network, Al-Alam, reported that sources said the attack was retaliation for an Israeli airstrike last week in Syria that killed "two resistance men."
Iran and Israel have been waging a "shadow war" on land and sea for several years. Analysts say this drone strike on the Mercer Street has all the hallmarks of another volley in this unofficial war. However, it is the first time in many years that the high seas "front" has turned deadly and may signal a new level in aggression since it appears that the "tit-for-tat" is now crossing from land to sea.
Israel's foreign minister Yair Lapid is pushing for the UN to take action against "Iranian terrorism."
On Monday, Iran defiantly declared it "will not hesitate to protect its security and national interests and will immediately and decisively respond to any possible adventurism (by the US, Britain or Israel)." Iranian officials again dismissed claims of their responsibility for the attack, saying the allegations were "contradictory" and accused the US and UK of supporting attacks of their vessels through their "silence."
Iran's Supreme Leader inaugurated Ebrahim Raisi as the new president of the Islamic Republic Tuesday. Raisi, dubbed the "hangman of Tehran," is on a US blacklist for his role in the "brutal crackdown" on protests and "extrajudicial executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988."