Jerusalem (AFP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday accused Iran of attacking an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman last week, in a mysterious explosion that raised security concerns in the region.
Without providing any evidence for his allegations, Netanyahu told the Israeli public broadcaster it was, “It was really on the part of Iran, this is clear.”
Iran is Israel’s greatest enemy, and I am determined to stop it. “We are hitting it in the entire region,” Netanyahu said. Iran quickly dismissed the accusations.
The blast struck the Israeli MV Helios Rai, a cargo ship flying the Bahamian flag, as it was sailing from the Middle East en route to Singapore on Friday. The crew was unharmed, but the ship was hit with two hatches on the port side and two on the starboard side above the waterline, according to US defense officials.
The ship arrived at the Dubai port for repair on Sunday, days after the explosion revived security concerns in Middle Eastern waterways amid escalating tensions with Iran.
Iran has sought to pressure the United States to lift sanctions on Tehran as President Joe Biden’s administration is considering an option to return to negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Biden has repeatedly said that the United States will revert to the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers that his predecessor Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018 only after Iran regained its full commitment to the deal.
It is noteworthy that the explosion on the Israeli-owned ship last week brought to mind the tense summer of 2019, when the US military accused Iran of attacking a number of oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman with shiny mines, designed to be magnetically attached to the hull of the ship. The Gulf of Oman passes through the narrow Strait of Hormuz, which is a vital corridor for global oil supplies. Tehran has denied accusations that it was behind the mine attacks.
It was not clear what caused the Helios ray to explode on Friday. The ship had offloaded cars at various ports in the Persian Gulf before the explosion forced it to reverse course. Over the weekend, the Israeli Defense Minister and the IDF chief indicated that they held Iran responsible for what they said was the attack on the ship.
Iran responded to Netanyahu’s statement, saying it “strongly rejects” the claim that it was behind the attack. In a press briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said that Netanyahu “suffers from an obsession with Iran” and described his accusations as “frightening.”
Khatib Zadeh also accused Israel of taking “suspicious measures in the region” against Iran in recent months to undermine the 2015 nuclear deal, without going into details, and pledging that Iran would respond.
He said: “Israel knows very well that our response in the field of national security has always been fierce and accurate.”
Overnight, Syrian state media reported a series of alleged Israeli air strikes near Damascus, saying that most of the missiles had been intercepted by air defense systems. Israeli media reports stated that the alleged airstrikes targeted Iranian targets in response to the ship’s attack.
Israel has bombed hundreds of Iranian targets in neighboring Syria in recent years, and Netanyahu has repeatedly said that Israel will not accept a permanent Iranian military presence there. Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah have provided military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the more than decade-old Syrian civil war.
The Israeli army declined to comment.
Iran has also blamed Israel for a series of recent attacks, including another mysterious explosion last summer that destroyed a sophisticated centrifuge assembly plant at the Natanz nuclear facility and killed Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the prominent Iranian scientist who founded the Islamic Republic’s second military nuclear program. Decades ago. Iran has repeatedly pledged revenge for Fakhrizadeh’s death.
On Monday, Netanyahu said, “It is extremely important that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons, with or without an agreement, and this is what I also said to my friend Biden.”
Iranian threats of retaliation have raised concerns in Israel since the signing of normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in September.
Associated Press writers Isabel Debre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran contributed to this report.