The ship which Iran attacked near Oman a few days ago is operated by the Israeli company, Zodiac Maritime, in which the oligarch Ofer family has a major interest. It owns Zim Lines and associated shipping interests and until 2011, itself traded with Iran, despite international sanctions prohibiting such commerce.
Among other products, Ofer ships shipped Iranian oil, enabling it to obtain desperately needed foreign currency to float its economy. While such business dealings may have been profitable for the company, there was an even more compelling reason to deal with Iran: Mossad boss, Meir Dagan, asked him to. Tikun Olam broke this story as well, which was banned from publication by the military censor. At the time, my source was confidential. But since his death, I can report it was former defense minister, Binyamin Ben Eliezer.
It was vital for the Israeli spy agency to have access to Iranian ports (in English) in order to conduct sabotage and espionage operations there, which included murdering nuclear scientists and sabotaging IRG missile bases, among other things. Israel agents and equipment were delivered there by Ofer vessels.
In fact, news reports at the time offered the bizarre claim that three of the Mossad agents involved in the plot to murder Mahmoud al Mabouh in Dubai in 2010 escaped via ship to Iran. It would seem highly likely they did so in an Ofer ship.
But this derring-do on the high seas came to an abrupt end when the US Treasury put the company on its sanctions black list, which named and shamed companies who were violating international sanctions. Ofer stopped its Iran trade and was removed from the US list.
Now, Iran has repaid the company in kind by targeting its ship and killing two of its crew. The attack by a suicide drone seems designed to escalate the maritime tit-for-tat sabotage campaign by Iran and Israel against each other’s ocean-going cargo ships.
In one such attack, Israeli naval commandos exploded a mine on the hull of an Iranian oil tanker in the Mediterranean. The damage was far more severe than the Israeli military expected and the resulting oil spill caused an environmental catastrophe on Israel’s beaches. I broke this story based on a confidential Israeli source. There likely was a gag order on reporting this in the Israeli media.
With the inauguration of Iran’s new hard line president, and the failing prospects of renewing the JCPOA nuclear deal, it would seem that the attack was meant as a deliberate escalation in hostilities between Iran and its Israeli-US rivals. Pres. Raisi seems intent on conveying a strong message: whatever you may have thought of Rouhani, he was a walk in the park compared to what I will be. Nor do Biden threats to impose harsher sanctions move him: been there, done that, the new Iranian leaders seem to be saying.
Thankfully, Israel’s new government seems not to have quite the appetite for terror attacks as its predecessors. Instead of immediately bombing an Iranian communications vessel as Netanyahu did a few months ago or killing a nuclear scientist, Prime Minister Bennett has appealed to the US and Britain to support it in demanding action by the UN Security Council. That’s not to say that Bennett won’t make such an aggressive response at some point. But at least he starts off with diplomacy instead of the braggadocio and bellicosity for which Netanyahu was known.