Doha: The attack that killed two people aboard an Israeli-operated vessel off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea on Thursday, is believed to have been a drone strike, US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which operates in the region, has claimed.
American explosives experts, who have examined the Mercer Street product tanker, have discovered “clear visual evidence that an attack had occurred” on the ship, the Fifth Fleet said, in a statement on Saturday.
“Initial indications clearly point to a (drone)-style attack,” it stated, without elaborating on how such a conclusion was reached.
Two US warships – nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and guided missile destroyer USS Mitscher – have been escorting the merchant vessel to a nearby port, it added.
Israeli officials later told the New York Times that several drones had targeted the tanker, crashing into its living quarters, located beneath the vessel’s command center.
Iranian authorities haven’t officially commented on the incident in the Arabian Sea. However, state run al-Alam broadcaster has cited “sources in the resistance axis,” who claimed that the ship had been targeted in response to recent Israeli airstrikes against Syria.
Explosions and fires aboard Israeli and Iranian-owned vessels have been frequent in the waters around the Gulf since the start of the year. Israel has also repeatedly targeted Iranian positions in Syria in recent years, resulting in many casualties and widespread destruction.
The Jerusalem Post meanwhile reported that the incident “looks like a serious and complex attack that is not just a major escalation, but a new use of Iran drone technology.”
“The reported use of numerous drones against the Mercer Street could mark a new era in the Middle East. Using several drones to precisely target parts of the ship, such as the bridge or living quarters, may indicate advanced surveillance and intelligence,” it said.
“It is not clear if Iran’s drones can be piloted once they are launched by a ground control station. That means that an attack on a ship is complex because ships move and it’s unclear how Iran might program the drones to strike the ship precisely. Even at anchor a ship will shift around with the tide or wind. So how could the drone target specific areas, unless it was controlled up until the impact?” it added. “If Iran has reached a new level of precision drone strikes and is using them against shipping in deadly attacks, this is a major milestone. ”
Dryad Global said the attack was the fifth against a ship connected to Israel since February. Two ships tied to Iran were attacked in that period, the firm said.
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