The Israeli-owned Pacific Zircon Tanker was attacked in the Gulf of Oman on Tuesday with the same series of Iranian suicide drones as those used by Russia against Ukraine, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) confirmed in an official statement on Wednesday evening.
"Exploitation of the debris that hit the vessel reveals that it was a Shahed-series one-way attack drown," said CENTCOM.
"We are confident that Iran likely conducted this attack using a UAV, a lethal capability it is increasingly employing directly and via its proxies throughout the Middle East and proliferating to Russia for use in Ukraine."US national security advisor Jake Sullivan
Iranian Shahed drones
US national security advisor Jake Sullivan condemned the attack on Wednesday, also saying that "upon review of the available information, we are confident that Iran likely conducted this attack using a UAV, a lethal capability it is increasingly employing directly and via its proxies throughout the Middle East and proliferating to Russia for use in Ukraine."
The US military's statement confirmed what Israeli officials told The Jerusalem Post the same day. The officials specified that the type of drone used to attack the tanker owned by Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer was a Shahed-136, a kamikaze drone model that in particular has seen extensive use by Moscow in the Russia-Ukraine War.
"This unmanned aerial vehicle attack against a civilian vessel in this critical maritime strait demonstrates, once again, the destabilizing nature of Iranian malign activity in the region," said CENTCOM commander General Michael "Erik" Kurilla.
Hundreds of shahed-series kamikaze drones were sold by Iran to Russia, and have been in use in the war since at least August, according to Western intelligence sources. The weapon has gained notoriety in Ukraine, often featured in rhetoric by high-ranking Ukrainian officials such as President Volodymyr Zelensky — who, according to Ukrainian media on Wednesday, said that presumed prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was considering providing air defenses to Ukraine that could counter the drone.
Iranian operations in the Gulf of Oman
Iran has been alleged to have attacked other such vessels in the Gulf of Oman in the past. In February 2021, the MV Helios Ray was attacked, and in July 2021, two crew members were killed when the Mercer Street was hit.
Sullivan said that there was no justification for the attack on the Pacific Zircon, which was part of "a pattern of such actions and broader destabilizing activities."Israeli officials told The Post that the attack on the Liberian-flagged ship operated by Singapore-based Eastern Pacific Shipping was to distract from a failed Iranian assassination plot in Georgia against an Israeli businessman.On November 8, other Iranian operations in the Gulf were disrupted by the US 5th Fleet when a "massive volume of explosive material" being smuggled from Iran to Yemen was intercepted.The 360,000 pounds of material, over 100 tons of urea fertilizer and 70 tons ammonium perchlorate, was discovered on a 'stateless' dhow vessel.
CENTCOM, Israel and the Middle East
The announcement of the seizure, and the attack on the Pacific Zircon, came in the same period as CENTCOM commander Kurilla's visit to Israel as a guest of IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi to deepen ties with the Israeli military. Kurilla has been engaging in discussions with partnered military leaders across the Middle East in recent weeks.
At an event honoring the incoming IDF chief of staff Maj.-Gen. Herzi Halevi, Kohavi said that "we are training and developing joint military capabilities in an accelerated manner against the developing threats in the Middle East, and in a special way against Iran."Tzvi Joffre, Michael Starr and Seth J. Frantzman contributed to this report.