Iran for the first time launched a suicide drone on Friday, July 30, against an Israeli-operated merchant vessel, the Mercer Street, north of the Omani island of Masirah in the Indian Ocean. Two crewmen, a Briton and a Romanian, were killed as the ship caught fire. The US Navy rushed to the burning ship’s aid and escorted it to harbor in Abu Dhabi, in the UAE. It was attacked while on its way from Dar es Salaam to Fujairah with no cargo aboard.
The Israeli owners had transferred the vessel to Japanese ownership after previous less serious incidents against their ships in the same region, while continuing to operate it from their London-based Zodiac Maritime Office.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz called an urgent conference on Friday night with Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi and other senior commanders, following which Gantz announced that Israel would make an “appropriate response” to the attack.
DEBKAfile adds: The event broke new ground as indicated by the following:
- It marked Iran’s first direct armed drone attack on an Israeli merchant vessel.
- The drone was identified by a US official as a “one way” drone – although the Americans stayed clear of former incidents of this kind. He added that “other drones took part” indicating a concerted assault. This confirmed an earlier report from the private maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global of a drone sighting around the vessel prior to the attack.
- Iranian sources, including the Al Alam Arabic language TV channel, reported that the Israeli vessel was attacked in reprisal for Israel’s air strike of July 22 against Revolutionary Guards bases at Qusayr, 25km from Aleppo in western Syria. They revealed that a number of Iranians were killed in that strike.
(Russian officials claimed that all the missiles fired by Israeli jets in that attack had been intercepted by Russian-made air defense systems.)
- This was the first time that Tehran had cited Israeli military action in Syria as justification for attacking an Israeli commercial vessel
- Saudi sources disclosed that on that same Friday night, one of their ships was also attacked with armed drones wielded by Iranian-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels in the Red Sea.