February 26, 2024

During a temporary halt to the conflict between Israel and Hamas, an Israeli-owned ship was hit by a Delta Wing Drone in the Indian Ocean, as reported by an unnamed US defense official. The drone was identified as an Iranian Shahed 136, similar to the kind provided to Moscow by Tehran last year for use against Ukraine.

This is not the first time that Iran has used one-way attack drones against tankers as part of its shadow war against Israel, and it is likely not the last. By using drones with smaller payloads and flying low and slow, Iran is engaging in graded escalation, trying to force Israel to absorb the threat without feeling the need to respond.

The Shahed 136, as per Iranian reports, has a range of 2,500 kilometers, weighs about 200 kilograms, and can carry a 50-kg. warhead, as well as reaching top speeds of 185 kilometers per hour. These drones are often referred to as “the poor man’s cruise missile,” due to their flight path resembling that of cruise missiles.

The latest incident targeted the Symi, a Malta-flagged vessel owned by a Singapore-based shipping corporation ultimately controlled by Israeli businessman Idan Ofer. Iranian drones have previously targeted vessels owned or operated by Ofer and his family, including the Pacific Zircon and Mercer Street.

This sustained campaign of Iranian attacks against Israeli-affiliated shipping interests is an understudied aspect of the Islamic Republic’s ongoing shadow war with Israel. Despite this and other tactics, Tehran believes it has found a successful approach to dealing with a more powerful adversary.

Moving forward, it is important for Israeli national security decision-makers to recognize that Iran has the capability and intent to continue its fight against Israel through various means, and to prioritize these threats accordingly.