Netanyahu accuses Iran of attacking Israeli-owned cargo ship

JERUSALEM (AP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday accused Iran of attacking an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman last week, a mysterious explosion that further increased security concerns in the region.

Without offering any evidence for his claim, Netanyahu told Israeli public broadcaster Kan that “it was indeed an act of Iran, that is clear.”

“Iran is Israel’s greatest enemy, I am determined to stop it. We are attacking him throughout the region, ”Netanyahu said. Iran quickly dismissed the charges.

The blast struck the Israeli-owned MV Helios Ray, a Bahamian-flagged cargo and unload vehicle cargo ship, as it sailed from the Middle East on its way to Singapore on Friday. The crew was unharmed, but the ship suffered two holes on the port side and two on the starboard side, just above the waterline, according to US defense officials.

The ship arrived in Dubai port for repairs on Sunday, days after the blast that rekindled security concerns on Middle Eastern waterways amid increased tension with Iran.

Iran has tried to pressure the United States to lift sanctions on Tehran as President Joe Biden’s administration considers the option of returning to negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Biden has repeatedly said that the United States would return to the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers that his predecessor, Donald Trump, withdrew from in 2018 only after Iran reestablishes its full compliance with the deal.

The explosion at the Israeli-owned ship last week was reminiscent of the tense summer of 2019, when the US military accused Iran of targeting several tankers in the Gulf of Oman with limpet mines, designed to magnetically bond to a ship’s hull. The Gulf of Oman runs through the Strait of Hormuz, a vital passage for the world’s oil supplies. Tehran has denied allegations that it was behind the limpet mine attacks.

It is unclear what caused Friday’s explosion at the Helios Ray. The ship had unloaded vehicles at various ports in the Persian Gulf before the explosion forced it to change course. Over the weekend, Israel’s defense minister and army chief had indicated that they held Iran responsible for what they said was an attack on the ship.

Iran responded to Netanyahu’s statement saying that it “strongly rejected” the claim that it was behind the attack. At a press conference, Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Netanyahu was “suffering from an obsession with Iran” and described his charges as “fear mongers.”

Khatibzadeh also accused Israel of taking “suspicious actions in the region” against Iran in recent months to undermine the 2015 nuclear deal, without elaborating, and promised that Iran would respond.

“Israel knows very well that our response in the field of national security has always been fierce and precise,” he said.

Overnight, Syrian state media reported on a series of suspected Israeli airstrikes near Damascus, saying the air defense systems had intercepted most of the missiles. Israeli media reports said the alleged airstrikes were against Iranian targets in response to the ship’s attack.

Israel has struck 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 Assad in the Syrian civil war of more than a decade.

The Israeli military declined to comment.

Iran has also blamed Israel for a recent string of attacks, including another mysterious explosion last summer that destroyed an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at its Natanz nuclear facility and the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top Iranian scientist who founded the program. nuclear military of the Islamic Republic two. decades ago. Iran has repeatedly vowed to avenge Fakhrizadeh’s assassination.

“It is more important that Iran does not have nuclear weapons, with or without an agreement, this I also told my friend Biden,” Netanyahu said on Monday.

Iranian threats of retaliation have raised alarms 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.


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