Netanyahu accuses Iran of attacking an Israeli Occupation ship, threatens retaliation

Grant Boone
March 3, 2021

The Friday explosion came amid high tensions between Iran and the new U.S. administration, which took its first military action Thursday night against Iranian-backed militia in Syria in response to attacks on USA forces in the Middle East. "We are hitting it in the entire region", Netanyahu said.

Asked whether Israel would retaliate the attack on the ship, Netanyahu sidestepped the issue, saying simply that Iran "is Israel's biggest enemy and we are striking them across the region".

"The ship has 28 crew members".

Washington has blamed Iran for a number of attacks on shipping in strategic Gulf waters, including on four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, in May 2019.

Kan said the interview was recorded on Sunday night, before Syria accused Israel of carrying out missile strikes around southern Damascus. Israeli officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Rami Ongar, the Israeli businessman who owns Helios Ray, told Ynet if the ship were attacked by Iran, it might have been as a warning to the Biden administration. No one on the crew was injured in the blast, but USA defense officials told The Associated Press the ship did sustain damage above the waterline. An Israeli official said limpet mines were used.

Following the election of US President Joe Biden, Washington, the European parties to the deal - France, Germany and Britain - and Tehran have been trying to salvage the troubled 2015 nuclear accord, which granted Iran global sanctions relief in return for restrictions on its nuclear programme. Tehran had denied the accusations, which came after Trump abandoned Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and reimposed harsh sanctions on the country.

Ray Shipping confirmed to The Times of Israel that one of its vessels was damaged "when an explosion was heard in the Persian Gulf near the Straits of Hormuz".

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It remains unclear what caused the blast, but the incident comes amid sharply rising tension between the US and Iran over its unravelling 2015 nuclear deal.

The vehicle-carrier ship is owned by a Tel-Aviv based company called Ray Shipping through a company registered in the Isle of Man, according to a United Nations shipping database.

Dryad Global suggested Iran could be behind the blast, noting the incident comes amid heightened tensions between Israel and the Islamic republic.

As Iran seeks to pressure the United States to lift sanctions, the country may seek "to exercise forceful diplomacy through military means", Dryad reported.

Israeli Channel 13 News said defence officials believed the Iranian navy had launched a precision strike to avoid casualties, firing two missiles at a part of the ship that if damaged would not have sunk the vessel.

Biden has said repeatedly the US would return to the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers that his predecessor, Donald Trump, withdrew from in 2018 only after Iran restores its full compliance with the accord.

Friday's incident also follows normalization deals between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain.

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