חשיפה: ישראל היא שגרמה לאסון הזפת. שייטת 13 תקפה את המכלית “אמרלד” שהייתה בדרך לסוריה, אך הפיצוץ גרם לנזק גדול בהרבה מהצפוי ולדליפה ענקית של נפט גולמי
با خرابکاری در کشتی نفتی ایران، اسرائیل ناحیه وسیعی از ساحل خود را آلوده کرد
Today, US officials reported that Israel had been mining Iranian oil tankers in retaliation for similar Iranian attacks on shipping in the Persian Gulf:
Since late 2019, Israel has used weaponry including water mines to strike Iranian vessels or those carrying Iranian cargo as they navigate toward Syria in the Red Sea and in other areas of the region.
The US reports did not offer details about specific attacks. But a high level Israeli government official told me that Israel not only had done this, but he offered details on one of the attacks. But before saying more about this, some background is in order.
A few weeks ago, a then-unknown tanker deposited 1,000 tons of oil into the Mediterranean close to Israeli shores. The oil eventually washed up on Israel’s beaches causing the worst environmental disaster in the country’s history. Sea animals were coated in sludge and turtles and a whale died as a result. Thousands of Israeli volunteered to clean up the mess. Israel’s famous beaches have been off limits for weeks.
At first, Israel blamed a Greek oil tanker which had been in the vicinity of the original oil spill. But later it admitted that this identification was wrong. Then the Israeli environment minister, Gila Gamliel, blamed Iran for the catastrophe. She purportedly did so without consulting Israeli intelligence officials, . She claimed that a, Iranian ship, the Emerald, had left an Iranian port loaded with oil. Its destination was Syria, which maintains regular trade with Iran. Because of international sanctions, Iran’s ability to sell its oil is limited and it must resort to these sorts of ad hoc commercial relationships.
When Gamliel pinned the blame, there was something like consternation within the Israeli intelligence apparatus. Officials told the press they knew nothing about her claim and that she hadn’t consulted with them. It made her look lame and I reported as such here. But my Israeli source tells me that she was indeed correct. The Emerald did cause the oil spill. But how did it happen? The information conveyed to me by the source is under Israeli military censorship, as you will see below.
This was not a deliberate attack by Iran on Israel as Gamliel claimed. In fact, It was precisely the reverse. It was a deliberate attack by Israel on the Iranian vessel. Israel’s naval commando unit, Shayetet 13 (they were the ones who murdered 10 Turkish citizens on the Mavi Marmara) covertly attached a mine to the Emerald. The intent was to cause minor damage that would send a message to Iran that its own attacks on Gulf shipping would bring a cost. This Times of London report written by Haaretz columnist Anshel Pfeiffer confirms my source:
They [Israeli attacks on the Emerald and other Iranian vessels] would have been planned jointly by Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence service, and military intelligence, which together have responsibility for tracking Iranian targets, and would have been carried out by Flotilla 13, the special operations unit of the navy.
However, the commandos didn’t realize that the Emerald was a rusty old hulk in desperately ill-repair. Here’s how the Wall Street Journal characterized some of the ships used to skirt Iran sanctions:
Shippers often declare false destinations, use old, rusted tankers to avoid notice, and sometimes transfer oil from one ship to another at sea to avoid detection, regional military officials said.
The Israeli mine, which was supposed to cause minor damage, actually ripped a hole so big that much of the contents of the ship’s hold leaked into the Mediterranean. This is what caused the Israeli environmental disaster: Israel itself.
The WSJ article in fact, whether intentionally or unintentionally, referred implicitly to the Emerald oil shipment and the sabotage:
In an episode last month, suspected Israeli operatives attached a limpet mine to attack an Iranian vessel as it anchored near Lebanon to deliver Iran oil to Syria, according to the first shipping professional. Israel’s military declined to comment on the incident.
It’s worth nothing that Gamliel, in pointing the finger of blame at the Iranians and the Emerald said that after its oil leaked into the sea it continued on to a Syrian port. After which, it returned to Iran.
The Times of London also adds this telling detail:
The [Israeli] attacks [on Iranian shipping] caused at least one big oil spill, in the Red Sea in October 2019, according to reports from Washington. Another spill, along the Israeli and Lebanese coasts in the past month, was blamed by Israeli politicians on a tanker carrying crude oil from Iran to Syria but will now be viewed in a different light.
Pfeffer published his story in The Times rather than Haaretz, because the military censor prohibited him from doing so. So he evaded the censor by publishing with a foreign news outlet. This is a further sign that the Israeli military does not wants its own citizens to know that it caused a national environmental catastrophe. And the censor does so under the false guise of protecting national security.
My Israeli source offered his characterization of the disaster:
“Yes, Israel is responsible for its own environmental catastrophe. Like the Beirut explosion, a planned “small” sabotage operation ended in a disaster. Shayetet 13 sabotaged The Emerald intending to cause a small hole that would prevent it continuing on its way to Syria, but Israeli intelligence had no idea about how old and rusty the tanker was. The result: a giant oil spill that hit Israeli -and also Lebanese – shores.”
Israeli intelligence is supposed to be among the best in the world. But remember the Lillehammer fiasco, where Mossad assassins murdered an innocent Moroccan waiter instead of the intended target, an alleged Palestinian plotter of the Munich massacre. There, Israeli hubris and determination to exact revenge against its enemies led to false assumptions and eventual disaster. So regarding Iran, Israeli intelligence has an incessant need to thump its chest to show, like a gorilla, dominance over the rest of the pack. This hubris led to the oil spill disaster.
There is a historical echo of this tragedy in the story of the SS Patria, a ship carrying 1,800 Jewish refugees from Holocaust-era Europe in 1940. It was docked in Haifa, but British authorities refused to permit its passengers to disembark. The Yishuv leadership strongly opposed the British refusal. It decided it would sabotage the ship so that it could not leave the harbor and return to Europe. Haganah fighters attached an explosive charge to the hull. But they erred in calculating the power of the device. Instead of disabling the navigation system, it tore off an entire side of the vessel, which actually sank in sixteen minutes. This caused the deaths of nearly 300 refugees.
It’s worth emphasizing as well, that the Emerald story would never have leaked without the involvement of US intelligence, which presumably is the source of today’s story. This is the second such leak which is damaging to the Netanyahu government. Biden knew that eventually the media would connect the dots and tie the story leaked today to the Emerald itself. He knew it would damage Israel’s reputation and discredit the Israeli prime minister’s entire rejectionist approach to Iran.
Though the US hasn’t exactly been Johnny-on-the-spot in terms of fulfilling its promise to return to the JCPOA, it knows that when it does so it will face a ferocious backlash from Republicans and from Israel. This leak is a pre-emptive attack. Such a scandal will set Netanyahu back on his heels. It will also potentially embarrass in the run up to the elections happening in the next two weeks.
If my suggestion about US motives is wrong and it was instead intending to threaten Iran, and remind it that this country continues to support Israel in its barely concealed war against it, then this leak (in both senses of the word) will be quite damaging to that effort.
I asked the Department of Defense to comment on reports that US intelligence has coordinated with Israel in these maritime attacks. Instead of commenting, the press officer referred me to the Israeli government. I thought it quite odd considering I wasn’t asking a US government official about Israel’s role. I was asking if the US had played any role in the attacks.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.