Has the US-Iran Gulf conflict spread to the Mediterranean? DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources reply in the affirmative. On July 24, more explosions hit pipelines deep under Mediterranean waters that were carrying crude from Iranian tankers to the Baniyas refineries in northern Syria. The Assad regime has no other energy providers. Syrian security authorities investigating the attack, which destroyed the pipes and caused an oil spill, deduced at once that it was a professional job, the work of foreign combat divers with efficient equipment for a deep-sea sabotage operation.
DEBKA Weekly’s military sources say that the only contenders with the competence for a military-style deep-sea operation of this kind are the US, Britain, Turkey and Israel. America or Israel is considered the most likely to have deployed such teams for the goal of halting Iran’s tanker traffic from the Gulf to the eastern Mediterranean and its delivery of oil to Syria.
The blasts were part and parcel of the same campaign which led to the seizure by British marines of the Iranian Grace 1 tanker in Gibraltar on July 4 before the vessel could reach Syria with its freight of crude. This tanker is still detained by island authorities.
Tehran retaliated on July 20 by capturing the British-flagged Stena Impero tanker in the Strait of Hormuz and forcing it to sail to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards base at Bandar Abbas port.
The sabotage of underwater pipes off the Syrian coast was therefore one strike in the sea battle over oil traffic underway between Iran and the US and its allies.
It was not the first but the second hit against the same target. The first mysterious explosion on June 22 damaged the same underwater pipelines used to deliver Iranian crude to the Baniyas refinery. Then, too, Syrian officials described the attack as “qualitative and professional” for a foreign state coordinated with the perpetrators to send a message to Damascus.
TankerTrackers.com, a US company that closely follows Iranian oil shipments to Syria, saw the Iranian-flagged Stark I oil tanker arriving off the Baniyas coast after the explosions. The tanker was sighted on June 19 in the Suez Canal for the first time since it went offline on May 12 off Iran’s Larak Island. This is an exit point for Iranian oil exports. The Stark 1 then sailed into position on June 27 to offload its crude for the Banyas refinery. It is assumed that the damaged pipelines had been slight enough to be repaired in the interim five days. This would explain why the second attack on July 24 was necessary for totally cutting off Iran’s energy supplies to Damascus. Our sources report that having lost this source to sabotage, the Assad regime is left with no option but to appeal to Moscow for an urgent supply of oil. Delivery could be routed through Russian naval facilities at the port of Tartous.