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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Mercer Street is a global wakeup call to the Iranian threat – editorial

The Iranian attack last week on a ship connected to Israel is a wake-up call that needs to reverberate around the world. Two crew members on Mercer Street – the Romanian captain and a British security officer – were killed in the attack, the first fatalities in what has been an ongoing maritime war-between-wars. This led the government in Jerusalem to accuse Tehran of “sowing violence and destruction.” Although the ship is owned by a Japanese company, Mercer Street is operated by London-based Zodiac Maritime, part of Israeli Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group. Clearly Israeli interests were the target, but other countries are no less threatened.

Mercer Street had been on its way from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates when it was apparently attacked in a drone strike northeast of the Omani island of Masirah. While Iran did not take responsibility for the attack, its fingerprints are all over it.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was right when he issued a statement, saying: “Iran is not just an Israeli problem, but an exporter of terrorism, destruction and instability that affects the whole world. We can never remain silent in the face of Iranian terrorism, which also harms freedom of navigation.”

Lapid also did well to reach out to his British and Romanian counterparts Dominic Raab and Bogdan Aurescu to offer condolences, support and seek greater cooperation in tackling Iran in the international arena. Lapid also instructed the embassies in London, Washington and at the UN in New York to discuss the need for a diplomatic response.

The attack took place just days before the swearing-in of Iran’s new president Ebrahim Raisi. As one Israeli official put it: “The masks are coming off, and no one can pretend they don’t know the character of the Iranian regime.”

The official told The Jerusalem Post’s Anna Ahronheim: “Iran isn’t just Israel’s problem, it is a global problem, and its behavior endangers free global shipping and trade. Our campaign against them will continue. This is an Iranian terror attack that killed two innocent men, harming international shipping.”

The extent of the threat is evident also in the type of technology involved. The Post’s Seth J. Frantzman, who has just published a book on drone warfare, noted that Iran has increased its capabilities in recent years and has UAVs with ranges stretching over 1,600 km, types that can carry missiles and others that can be programmed to carry out precision attacks by slamming into targets.

Frantzman noted that Iranian-style kamikaze drones have been developed by Hamas in Gaza and by the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen. The Houthis have used the UAVs to strike targets in Saudi Arabia.

Through its support for terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Houthis and others, the Islamic Republic of Iran is in a position to threaten the citizens, personnel and interests of many countries in the region and beyond it without directly tying itself to attacks. 

“Iranian drones and drone technology are now a major emerging threat,” wrote Frantzman. “From Lebanon all the way through Syria and Iraq to the Persian Gulf and then to the Gulf of Oman and Yemen, stretching thousands of miles and potentially putting ships and forces from the US and many allies and partners in danger. Iran may be signaling that it will strike using drones at sea in deadly attacks in what it claims are responses to Israeli strikes in Syria or elsewhere.”

The world must unite in recognizing this threat and taking it seriously. A good first step would be the creation of an international maritime coalition to provide security in the Gulf, Straits of Hormuz and northern Indian Ocean.

Iran, which is steaming ahead with its plans for nuclear weapons, must be held accountable for its aggression. The world needs to understand that this is not only an Israeli problem and Israel cannot be expected to stop the Iranian threat and destruction on its own. Above all, Iran needs to be shown that there is a solid global opposition to its violence. Appeasing Iran through a watered-down nuclear deal will mean that nowhere on land or at sea will be safe.

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