Iran's Drone, Air Force Commanders Behind Deadly Ship Attack, Israel Says

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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The oil tanker Mercer Street, which came under attack last week off Oman, is seen moored off Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, today
The oil tanker Mercer Street, which came under attack last week off Oman, is seen moored off Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, todayCredit: Reuters
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's drone command and the head of its air force were behind a deadly attack on an Israeli-linked ship off the coast of Oman, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Wednesday. 

In a briefing with ambassadors of UN Security Council member nations, Gantz and Lapid said Saeed Ara Jani, the head of the drone command, and Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the air force chief, were responsible for the attack on the Mercer Street, which killed two crew members – a Briton and a Romanian.

"Iran is responsible for dozens of acts of terrorism throughout the Middle East and operating militias on its behalf in Yemen, Iraq and other countries," Gantz said.

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He added that "Iran also crossed all the lines that were set in the previous nuclear agreement, and is now only around 10 weeks away from obtaining fissionable material that will allow it to develop a nuclear bomb."

"This is an assault on global trade routes," Lapid said. "This is an assault on the freedom of movement. This is an international crime." He urged the international community to impose economic sanctions and "operational activities against the Revolutionary Guard."

On a recording from one of the vessels, called Asphalt Princess, obtained by commodities pricing firm Argus Media and shared with The Associated Press, a crew member can be heard telling the Emirati coast guard that five or six armed Iranians had boarded the tanker.

A recording of the Asphalt Princess communicating with Emirati the coast guard.

“Iranian people are onboard with ammunition,” the crew member says. “We are … now, drifting. We cannot tell you exact our ETA to [get to] Sohar,” the port in Oman listed on the vessel’s tracker as its destination. It was not clear whether the crew members, whom he identified as Indian and Indonesian, were in immediate danger.

The U.S., U.K., and Israel accused Iran of being behind the attack on the tanker, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowed a "collective response." Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meanwhile said on Tuesday that Israel "know[s] how to act alone" against Iran. 

Blinken spoke with U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab about ongoing efforts to forge a coordinated response to Iran’s attack on the Mercer Street, the State Department said Wednesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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