According to a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report, Israel has targeted about a dozen oil tankers departing from Iran to Syria since 2019. These attacks have been supposedly out of concern that Iranian oil profits are being used to fund more terrorism in the Middle East.

The WSJ piece said that the Israelis are using weapons including “water mines” to target Iranian shipping en route to Syria in the Red Sea and other places.

It is known that the Iranians have continued their oil trade by shipping millions of barrels of oil to Syria therefore, circumventing the sanctions placed by Washington and the United Nations. They are also sending weapons through Syria and arming their proxies. 

Notably, the WSJ report cited “U.S. and other regional officials” as its sources.

Further, the timing of the report’s release is interesting as many of the alleged attacks on Iranian shipping have not been made public.

Israel hasn’t commented on these and many other incidents involving attacks on Iranian presence in the Gulf. 

The piece gives the impression that Iran’s attacks against Israeli shipping have been in retaliation for similar Israeli attacks and thus that Iran has not been the aggressor.

Just recently the Iranians allegedly attacked the Israeli-owned MV Helios Ray, a Bahamian-flagged cargo ship, in the Gulf of Oman. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the Iranians who denied any involvement in the incident. 

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that the initial assessment is that the attack was a result of Iranian aggression. 

“We have to keep investigating. The Iranians are looking to hit Israelis and Israeli infrastructure. The proximity to Iran leads us… to believe that this was initiated by them,” Gantz said.

But the Iranians then accused the Helios Ray of spying in the Gulf and claimed that this was a false-flag attack by Israel with the stated intention of blaming the Islamic Republic. 

The damage to the Helios Ray was consistent with a limpet mine. These mines are easily attached to the side of ships, at or below the waterline, using strong magnets. A limpet mine’s blast won’t sink a large ship but the damage will cause many to return to port. Four ships were attacked in the Gulf in 2019 by limpet mines. Iran was blamed for the attacks but denied any involvement. Iran has been attacking shipping in the Gulf since 1980.

Purportedly, Iran didn’t report many of the attacks mentioned in the WSJ piece to not appear weak. “We are trying to keep a low profile,” one Iranian shipping official was quoted as saying in the WSJ article. “It would look like a sign of weakness.”

The citing of U.S. sources could also point to the Biden administration putting pressure on the Israeli government to not try to disrupt its planned negotiations with Iran. Washington is adamant about restarting negotiations with Tehran over the nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This is something that the Israelis, especially Prime Minister Netanyahu, are firmly against.

Yet, by bringing these attacks by Israel to light, any further attacks on Iranian shipping could lead to repeated retaliatory strikes by Iran or its proxies.