This incident deserves the attention of President Zelensky not only because about 200,000 Ukrainian citizens work as sailors and are not immune from such risks in the waters of the Oman and Persian Gulf. The attack on the tanker is reminiscent of the tragedy of a passenger plane of Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) shot down near Tehran in January 2020. Both cases are a tragic consequence of the confrontation between the United States, Israel, and Iran in the Middle East and demand compensation for damage and bring those responsible to justice.
Undeclared naval war
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Said Khatibzade denied the Islamic Republic's involvement in the attack on the Mercer Street tanker and threatened to react harshly if Israel, the United States, or Britain retaliated. However, the Iranian state newspaper Al-Alam reported that the attack was in response to an Israeli airstrike on an airport in the Al-Qusayreh region of Syria a few days earlier. This attack is an asymmetric response by Iran to Israeli airstrikes on the infrastructure of the Iranian military in Syria, on convoys with weapons supplied to the Hezbollah terrorist organization in Lebanon.
The incident off the coast of Oman is far from the first provocation of this kind. From February to July 2021, four more Israeli-related commercial ships were damaged in the Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean. For example, in April, an Israeli ship was attacked off the coast of the UAE shortly after an explosion at the Iranian nuclear facility in Natanz. Iran accused Israel of organizing sabotage and promised to take revenge.
Iran uses such attacks to psychologically influence the United States, making it clear that as long as there are sanctions that impede the Islamic Republic's oil exports, it will impede freedom of navigation as much as possible and pose threats to its allies, including Israel. ..Due to the sanctions imposed by US President Donald Trump in 2018, oil exports from Iran decreased from 2.5 million to 400,000 barrels per day.
No one but Iran is interested in attacking a ship in which Israel is involved. The only Iranian-linked Shiite group in relative proximity to the site of the incident is Ansar Allah in Yemen. They are armed with Iranian drones and missiles. In 2019, the Houthis claimed responsibility for shelling the facilities of the oil company Aramco in Saudi Arabia. It is believed that in fact, Tehran was behind the attack, and the Houthis took on the role of the scapegoat.
Iran has developed drones with a range of 200 to 1,700 km, which are used by Shiite groups in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, as well as the terrorist organization Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Drones are used to attack US military installations in Syria and Lebanon. Among them are "kamikaze drones" that detonate on contact with a target, as in the case of the tanker Mercer Street.
Israel did not remain in debt: from the end of 2019 to June 2021, 14 Iranian ships were attacked with mines, including a floating base of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps off the coast of Yemen and a warship in the Persian Gulf, which sank to the bottom. Most of all, the Israelis attacked tankers that delivered Iranian oil to Syria. Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz believes that Israel has the right to respond as it wants and when it wants, stressed that Iran's aggression is harmful to ordinary people and the world economy, and called on the international community to act.
It is difficult to disagree with Gantz because Ukraine also suffered from the actions of Iran. A passenger Boeing of Ukraine International Airlines was shot down on January 8, 2020, by surface-to-air missiles fired from the bases of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, three minutes after taking off from Tehran airport. All 167 passengers and 9 crew members were killed. Among them were citizens of Ukraine, Canada, UK, Iran, Afghanistan, Sweden. Probably, the would-be anti-aircraft gunners confused a passenger plane with an American bomber. The tragedy was preceded by a missile attack on a US military base in Iraq in response to the elimination of the Iranian Quds Special Forces commander, General Qassem Soleimani, on January 3 at Baghdad airport during a drone missile strike ordered by Trump.
For more than a year now, we have not been able to get from Iran a clear explanation of the circumstances of the tragedy. The last round of negotiations in Kyiv on June 2-3 ended in nothing. The Iranian authorities offered to pay the families of the victims $ 150,000 each but refused to share the information. Ukraine, Great Britain, Canada, and Sweden sent Iran a list of requirements, including a confession of their crime, a detailed report on the reasons for the destruction of the aircraft, the return of the belongings of the deceased, a transparent investigation, in addition to payment of compensation. However, the Iranian authorities are in no hurry to comply with them.
Israel and Singapore found themselves in the same boat with Ukraine. The drone strike killed two people and damaged the tanker of the Singapore-based company Eastern Pacific Shipping, disrupting a deal involving the Israeli firm Zodiac Maritime. The only difference is that if, in the case of a downed passenger plane, the families of the victims can count on compensation from Iran, which acknowledged the fact of the tragedy, then the relatives of the killed British and Romanians who worked on the tanker are unlikely to receive anything. After all, Iran flatly does not admit its responsibility for the attack on the tanker.
Both cases are similar, and therefore the opportunity presented itself for Ukrainian diplomacy to again raise the issue of the downed UIA plane at the international level. Countries affected by Iran's actions can join forces to seek from its leadership the necessary concessions and compensation for damage for violation of freedom of navigation and airspace. This will allow considering the issue of the downed aircraft and Iran's attack on commercial ships within the framework of the UN, regional organizations such as NATO, OSCE, Council of Europe, and the EU.
The Islamic Republic is included in the list of countries sponsoring terrorism by the US State Department, and its destructive actions towards Israel and Ukraine fully justify this decision. The Israeli government is working on a response to Iran's provocation, which it perceives as a terrorist attack.
It is important to make it clear to President Ibrahim Raisi and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that Iran's behavior plagues not only the United States and Israel but also European countries such as Ukraine and Romania, which are not related to the US-Iranian standoff in the Middle East. The more zealously Iran denies responsibility for its provocations, the more countries will maintain pressure on the Ayatollah regime.
Unilateral military actions by Israel are possible but without the participation of the United States and Great Britain, which are still hoping to convince Iran to return to fulfilling the obligations to limit its nuclear program in 2015 at the talks in Vienna. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken suggested preparing a collective response to Iran. Most likely, we are talking about sanctions. On the eve of the incident, the Biden administration was considering the possibility of imposing sanctions restricting the export of Iranian oil to China if negotiations on a nuclear deal ended in failure. The United States and Israel can count on support from the EU and NATO, which have expressed concern over Iran's violation of freedom of navigation and the death of tanker crew members.
However, it will not be possible to restore international sanctions at the level of the UN Security Council, since this idea will not be supported by permanent members represented by Russia and China. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement that Western countries need to show evidence of Iran's involvement in the attack on the tanker before voicing accusations. Iran plays along with Russia in the conflict with Ukraine. The Iranian representative voted in the UN General Assembly against the resolutions on the occupation of Crimea and the recognition of Russia as an aggressor country, on the violation of human rights, on the problem of militarizing the peninsula.
China will not support international sanctions against Iran for commercial and political reasons. In March 2021, an Agreement was signed on strategic cooperation between China and Iran for a period of 25 years, which provides for investments in nuclear energy, ports, railways, and other infrastructure projects, the transfer of military technologies to the Iranians, and investments in the oil and gas sector in exchange for stable supplies of cheap oil. Tehran is viewed by Beijing as a pillar of influence in the Middle East.