Iranian Naval Provocations

An Iranian suicide drone attack near Oman against the Israeli-operated MT Mercer Street killed two crewmembers on July 29, marking the most significant escalation in Tehran’s aggression at sea since 2019. The attack is an alarming convergence of two dangerous trends in Iran’s aggressive activities: its maritime harassment and increasing use of drones. This year, Iran and its proxies are increasingly using drones to strike U.S. service members, partners, and interests in Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, with limited U.S. response to date.

Now, Tehran is signaling its willingness and ability to apply the lessons it has learned about drones—including its relative impunity—to its maritime aggression. Shortly after the Mercer Street attack, reports indicate that Iranian hijackers took control of the MV Asphalt Princess, a Panama-flagged tanker, in the Gulf of Oman on August 3. To deter future Iranian naval and drone aggression, the United States needs a forceful, persistent, and integrated response, alongside its partners, that disrupts Tehran’s ability to mount such attacks and instills fear of future U.S. reactions. Otherwise, Iran is likely to only escalate its attacks, as it did in 2019.

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JINSA Staff Contributors

Blaise Misztal – Vice President for Policy
Charles B. Perkins – Director for U.S.-Israel Security Policy
Jonathan Ruhe – Director of Foreign Policy
Ari Cicurel – Senior Policy Analyst