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Middle East|Cargo Ship, Recently Israeli-Led, Struck in High Seas Encounter

The attack could be the latest aggressive act tied to a shadow war between Iran and Israel playing out on the high seas.

A photo issued by the Iranian Army in February showing an assault ship taking part in a naval drill in the Indian Ocean.
Credit…Iranian Army Office, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A commercial ship that was previously owned by an Israeli-led company was attacked in the Indian Ocean on Saturday in what appeared to be the latest tit-for-tat in a shadowy regional conflict between Israel and Iran.

The ship, which had been owned until recently by Zodiac Maritime, a London-based company led by the Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer, was believed to have come under assault by an Iranian drone or naval commandos, said an Israeli national security official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss national security matters. The ship sustained minor damage, the official said. There were no injuries.

The ship was recently taken over by another company with no Israeli connection, according to an individual familiar with the history of the ship.

The attack on the ship, which was headed from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to the port city of Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates, came as the United States and Iran have been working to revive their 2015 nuclear deal, an effort that the Israeli government has opposed.

It also occurred about 10 days after Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency said an attack on one of its facilities had been foiled. But satellite images of the site that were unveiled on Saturday showed it had significant damage.

Israel stayed mum on that attack. But the site, one of Iran’s main manufacturing centers for the production of the centrifuges, was on a list of targets that Israel presented to the Trump administration early last year.

Iran did not officially take responsibility for the maritime attack on Saturday, but media organizations in Iran and outlets in the broader Middle East that are sympathetic to Iran reported widely on the attack.

And in an apparent reference to the attack, a Telegram channel run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, the foreign-facing branch of the country’s powerful security apparatus, posted an old photo of a ship on fire.

Israel and Iran have been fighting each other, often through proxies, in many countries throughout the Middle East, on land and in the air, for years, but the adversaries have recently opened a new front in their conflict, on the high seas.

Since 2019, Israel has been attacking ships carrying Iranian oil and weapons through the eastern Mediterranean and Red Seas.

Iran has engaged in its own maritime attacks. In March and April, Israeli-owned ships came under Iranian fire, according to Israeli officials.

Saturday’s attack, the Israeli national security official said, was thought to have resulted from a miscalculation by Iran, which he said might have been in possession of faulty intelligence regarding the ownership of the vessel, the CSAV Tyndall.

In a statement, Zodiac Maritime, the Israeli-led company, confirmed it no longer owned the ship. A database belonging to the United Nations International Maritime Organization showed the CSAV Tyndall was now owned by another London-based company, named Polar 5 LTD.

Since ships with ties to Israel started coming under fire in March and April, the United States has provided Israeli ships in the Persian Gulf and nearby areas with escorts, and given warnings about Iranian intentions to attack them, according to U.S. and Israeli intelligence officials.

The last warning of a possible Iranian attack, which came from the American intelligence community, was on May 31, the same day that David Barnea, the new chief of the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, took office, an intelligence official said.

Farnaz Fassihi contributed reporting.