By Elijah J. Magnier
Magnier is a veteran war correspondent and a Senior Political Risk Analyst with decades of experience covering the West Asian region.
A Romanian Captain and a British security officer were killed by a suicide drone attack on the M/T Mercer Street oil tanker – a Liberian-flagged, Japanese-owned ship that is part of the Zodiac Group of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer- sailing from Tanzania towards the United Arab Emirates. The first attack on the tanker caused only material damage but was followed by a second attack where the command and control tower was hit to cause human casualties. Al-Alam TV said the attack responded to an Israeli attack on al-Dab’aa airport in Syria where Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah were killed and wounded. Therefore, the Israeli attack represents a change of the Rule of Engagement (ROE), violating the limit of acceptance in the ongoing conflict and pushing Iran to start a “campaign between wars,” expected to increase in intensity in the future. What is shocking to Israel is that, for the first time, Iran showed how linked all theaters are and how an Israeli hit is met with an unexpected response in the Oman Sea.
Israel had carried out over a thousand strikes against targets in Syria during the decade of war against the Syrian army and targets belonging to the “Axis of the Resistance.” However, Israel's only objective result was to enlarge the influence of the “Axis of the Resistance” in the Levant – that won the destructive war and defeated the Takfiri groups (ISIS and al-Qaeda) and the different Syrian groups supported by [Persian] Gulf and western countries. The “Axis of the Resistance” enlarged and consolidated its influence on Iraq and Yemen, forming a robust front against Israel and its allies.
Israel tried to operate in the Iraqi theater, sending suicide drones that destroyed seven warehouses belonging to the Iraqi security forces al-Hashd al-Sha’abi. Also, an Israeli drone operating from US military bases in Syria and Iraq attacked and killed an Iraqi commander while he was travelling towards the Iraqi-Syrian borders.
Two years ago, Israel sent two suicide drones onto the Lebanese capital Beirut. One exploded close to Hezbollah’s office and another crashed and was found intact, containing explosives. That raised the alarm among the “Axis of the Resistance” that Israel was now using this kind of kamikaze drones to reach its targets yet avoid accountability. The “Axis of the Resistance” then adopted this Israeli use of suicide drones for many theaters.
In the last two and a half years, Israel claims to have carried out several dozen attacks against Iranian targets. The ‘war of sabotage’ between Iran and Israel is no longer a secret, both sides admit their respective responsibility for the attacks inflicted on one another in the traditional manner, through media leaks. The former Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu explicitly broke the Israeli practice of deniability and revealed the responsibility of Israel in many sabotage attacks and unlawful assassinations against Iranian scientists and institutions.
However, it is safe to acknowledge that Israel is playing with fire since it is operating outside its comfort zone and competing in Iran’s playground. Furthermore, Israel is clearly facing a severe challenge to its authority and reputation in the Middle East. The question is, how long it can sustain this tit-for-tat game that it has itself initiated?
Iran officially denied its involvement in the attack. However, analysts in the region believe that Israel is under shock because it is possible that Iran has responded in the Sea of Oman against an Israeli attack in Syria, introducing a new ROE and choosing the theater directly and not through its allies or in the same operational theater in the Levant. This Iranian choice – claim analysts – indicates that Tehran has deliberately avoided any further implication of the Syrian government, clearly unwilling to start an open war against Israel. It is also saying that Iran will no longer be contained by the Syrian frame for retaliation or containment, and will choose where to hit back at Israel for its continuous attacks on Iranian targets in the Levant.
According to a high-ranking official in the “Axis of the Resistance,” Iran is aware that “90% of Israel’s goods pass through the sea, which falls into Iran’s operational theater and within a comfortable range of its military reach. Israel is indisputably an intelligent enemy. However, the idea to expand its operational theater within Iran’s controlled area is arrogant, provocative and counterproductive. Israel is offering Iran unlimited targets in the sea to select from when it initiates this game, which will undoubtedly break its teeth. Israel has much more to lose if it decides to respond to the attack because the retaliation from the Iranian side will not take very long. The last response was significant and balanced, imposing deterrence and a new Rule of Engagement that still causes confusion and pain to Israel.”
This is not the first time that Israel has bombed the al-Dab’aa airport situated in the al-Quseir area. Israel considers the zone as a base for the “Axis of the Resistance,” a storage zone for its precision and strategic missiles and an area implicated in the next war against Israel. However, this is the first time that Israel targets a dormitory at the airport with the apparent intention of causing human casualties, killing and wounding three people. Israel was, therefore, aware that retaliation could be on its way. However, it ignored how, when and where. The Mercer Street oil tanker was initially attacked by a drone that damaged only the tanker. The second attack with a suicide drone against this Israeli-operated tanker appears to intentionally aim to cause human casualties (two people were killed), seemingly bringing the account with al-Dab’aa losses to evens.
“If Israel raises the tension and the attacks, it will be met with similar acts unless the traditional ROE is re-established where Israel bombs insignificant targets, destroying replaceable warehouses or a kitchen or a runway. Otherwise, Israel should expect retaliation against its interests anywhere, with or without a US naval escort. Iran’s bank of objectives is abundant, and Israel is clearly much more vulnerable than it is able to imagine. This time, the attack took place against an empty tanker, but enough to increase the price of insurance and cause financial repercussions on Israel,” revealed the source.
Israel has opened Pandora’s box, and hiding under the US’s skirt will not protect Israeli-owned ships if the attacks in Syria continue. Iran is carrying out a campaign “between wars” on Israel which contains limited choices. Any escalation will endanger Israeli navigation, and a lack of response means Israel has decided to bite on its wounds, under the world’s watchful eyes. The Iranian deterrence has been imposed either way. The most worrying and crucial part for Israel to consider is whether Iran invokes a Rule Of Engagement every time Israel bombs targets in Syria or only when targeting an objective belonging to the “Axis of the Resistance?” The next moves will answer this question. Neither answer is good news for Israel, which has set in motion a new chain of events, which itself will suffer from.
(The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Press TV.)