Israel has attacked naval vessels heading to Syria several times since late 2019, fearing that oil sales are funding regional extremism, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.
At least a dozen vessels, both Iranian and those carrying Iranian cargo, have been targeted, and were mainly carrying Iranian oil, according to the report. The newspaper quoted unnamed U.S. officials as saying that some of the attacks targeted other cargo, including weapons. Israel declined to comment on the attacks, the Wall Street Journal said.
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Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank that calls for a tough policy on Iran, told the newspaper that "the Red Sea sabotage is keeping with a broader economic warfare campaign."
The naval attacks had not been reported before Thursday. Israel has conducted airstrikes in Syria on many occasions in its efforts to resist Iranian military entrenchment in that country, although it rarely comments on specific strikes. Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi said at the end of last year that his country's missile strikes had "slowed down Iran's entrenchment in Syria," hitting more than 500 targets in 2020.
Iranian shipping professionals told the Wall Street Journal that there haven't been reports of ships being sunk by the attacks, but that at least two ships have had to return to port, delaying the oil's delivery to Syria. A source also told the newspaper that U.S. officials tacitly supported the attacks during former President Donald Trump's administration – and analysts told it that there was no sign that the U.S. would obstruct further such actions.
Iranian oil tankers increasingly have been accused of smuggling oil out of the country and selling the lucrative crude abroad after Trump reimposed sweeping sanctions on the country, including on its oil sector, a main source of income for Tehran.
In 2019, the U.K. seized an Iranian oil tanker suspected of violating European Union sanctions on oil shipments to Syria, setting off a series of confrontations. Iranian tankers sometimes turn off their identification system, making them difficult to track.
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The Associated Press contributed to this article.