The Wall Street Journal reports today:
Israel has targeted at least a dozen vessels bound for Syria and mostly carrying Iranian oil out of concern that petroleum profits are funding extremism in the Middle East, U.S. and regional officials say, in a new front in the conflict between Israel and Iran.
Since late 2019, Israel has used weaponry including water mines to strike Iranian vessels or those carrying Iranian cargo as they navigate toward Syria in the Red Sea and in other areas of the region. Iran has continued its oil trade with Syria, shipping millions of barrels and contravening U.S. sanctions against Iran and international sanctions against Syria.
Some of the naval attacks also have targeted Iranian efforts to move other cargo including weaponry through the region, according to U.S. officials.
The attacks on the tankers carrying Iranian oil haven’t been previously disclosed. Iranian officials have reported some of the attacks earlier and have said they suspect Israeli involvement.
The 'exclusive' leak to the WSJ, by U.S. officials(!), is designed to damage the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahoo.
It explains a number of recent incidents which Israel had claimed to be 'Iranian aggressions' but which were caused by Israel itself or were in obvious retaliation for Israeli deeds.
In mid February oil which had leaked from an unknown tanker damaged the beaches of Palestine:
Israel closed all its Mediterranean beaches until further notice on Sunday, days after an offshore oil spill deposited tons of tar across more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) of coastline in what officials are calling one of the country's worst ecological disasters.
Activists began reporting globs of black tar on Israel's coast last week after a heavy storm.
The Environmental Protection Ministry and activists estimate that at least 1,000 tons of tar, a product of an oil spill from a ship in the eastern Mediterranean earlier this month, have already washed up on shore. The ministry is trying to determine who is responsible. It declined commenting on details of the investigation because it was ongoing.
What made this event curious was the unusual Israeli attempt to censor reporting on it:
In a surprise move, a Haifa court on Monday imposed a seven-day gag order on the ongoing investigation into the massive oil spill that devastated Israel’s Mediterranean coast over the weekend, according to Hebrew media reports.
The order prohibits the publication of any details of the investigation, including the name of the ship, company or individuals involved, as well as the ship’s point of origin, destination and cargo, until Sunday.
Before the gag order was put in place, Israeli media speculated that the ship belonged to a nearby friendly country, to which it has possibly already returned.
That Israel put out a gag order makes it likely that the incident was related to the now reported Israeli operation against an Iranian vessels on its way to Syria.
Israel investigated a Greece ship for the oil spill but later found it to be innocent. Meanwhile the Prime Minister Hassan Diab of Lebanon, which was also hit by the spill, blamed an Israeli ship for causing it. Israel later claimed that a Libyan owned ship had caused the oil spill.
Finally the Israelis settled on blaming Iran:
Over 90% of Israel's 195 kilometre (120-mile) Mediterranean coastline was covered in more than 1,000 tons of black tar, the result of the mysterious oil spill in international waters.
Israel's environmental protection minister Gila Gamliel said a Libyan-owned tanker transporting oil from Iran to Syria was responsible for spilling tons of crude into the eastern Mediterranean.
Ministry officials said it is believed the ship dumped its oil in the eastern Mediterranean, around 70 kilometers (40 miles) off the coast of Israel, in early February.
Gamliel called the incident a deliberate act of "environmental terror" and blamed Iran.
Gamliel, a junior minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, provided no evidence to support that theory.
In late February an Israeli owned vessel was attacked with limpet mines while sailing in the Gulf of Oman:
The network said that Israel increasingly believes a naval force from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was behind the attack. Channel 12 news raised the possibility that the explosion was the work of a commando team in a fast boat that attached explosives to the ship.
As a result of the explosion, Israeli ships were instructed to increase alertness and change their typical conduct in an attempt to evade potential problems, Channel 12 said. The exact instructions were not revealed for security reasons.
The MV Helios Ray, a vehicle carrier, was traveling from the Saudi port of Dammam to Singapore when the blast occurred on Thursday.
The crew was unharmed in the blast, but the vessel sustained two holes on its port side and two on its starboard side just above the waterline, according to American defense officials.
To summarize: Israel attacked Iranian fuel supplies going by sea to Syria thereby causing an oil spill on its own beaches. It also exposed itself to additional retaliation measures against Israeli owned ships by Iran, which naturally officially denied any involvement.
U.S. officials then leak the whole scheme to the WSJ to stop Netanyahoo from continuing the self-defeating campaign.