November 28, 2022 | Flash Brief

Iran Linked to Attack on Commercial Tanker

November 28, 2022 | Flash Brief

Iran Linked to Attack on Commercial Tanker

Latest Developments

A U.S. Navy lab confirmed Iran’s connection to a November 15 drone attack on the Liberian-flagged, Israeli-linked commercial tanker M/T Pacific Zircon, according to a press release last week by U.S. Naval Forces Central Command. An Iranian Shahed-136 drone struck the vessel as it transited international waters in the Northern Arabian Sea, damaging the ship’s stern. This is the latest incident in a string of Iranian-linked attacks on commercial ships in the Middle East.

Expert Analysis

“The Islamic Republic of Iran is using drones as part of a systematic campaign to threaten the flow of maritime commerce in the Middle East. With the benefit of lessons learned in Ukraine, we can expect more Iran-linked drone attacks on shipping in the Middle East in the future, especially if some shipping companies do not work more closely with the International Maritime Security Construct.”Bradley Bowman, Senior Director of FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power

“Until there is increased international cooperation to anticipate, detect, and raise the cost for Tehran’s attacks on commercial shipping, we should expect more of the same.” Ryan Brobst, Research Analyst at FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power

Iranian Drones and Attacks on Civilian Vessels

The Shahed-136 is a loitering munition with a range of at least several hundred kilometers and an explosive warhead of up to 40 kilograms, which detonates on impact with the target. The drone is relatively inexpensive to produce and difficult to detect, making it one of the most effective weapons in Iran’s already extensive drone arsenal.

Tehran and its terror proxies have previously used the Iranian Shahed-136 to attack other Israeli-linked commercial vessels. A July 2021 strike on the M/T Mercer Street, for example, killed two crewmembers, one British and the other Romanian. Iran attacked additional Israeli maritime targets earlier that year, including the vessels MV Helios Ray and MV Lori, via other means. Since 2019, Iran has seized British, Greek, and South Korean flagged vessels, among others.

The Proliferation of Iranian Drones

Iran is a major drone proliferator, providing them to its terror proxies and other countries. Initially employed only in the Middle East, Tehran has now provided hundreds of Shahed-136 drones to Russia for use in Ukraine to destroy critical infrastructure, attack battlefield targets, and kill civilians throughout the country. Iran also dispatched advisors to Crimea to help the Russian military employ the drones. Those advisors are almost certainly learning valuable battlefield tactics, techniques, and procedures that will inform future attacks on American, Israeli, and other targets in the Middle East.

International Maritime Security Construct

Established in 2019, the International Maritime Security Construct helps address threats to merchant shipping in the Middle East. Albania, Bahrain, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States are currently members. Adding additional countries to the IMSC and improving collaboration and communication between it and the shipping industry could help reduce the number of future attacks.

Related Analysis

To Stop Iran’s Proxy Terrorists, Stop Iran,” by Bradley Bowman, Joe Truzman, and Ryan Brobst

Iranian Shahed-136 Drones Increase Russian Strike Capacity and Lethality in Ukraine,” by John Hardie and Ryan Brobst

Expand Israel-Arab-US military drills to counter Iran and its proxies,” by Bradley Bowman and Ryan Brobst


Iran Iran Global Threat Network Military and Political Power