Iran accused of attacking Israeli ship

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused Iran of responsibility for an explosion aboard an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman last week.

The MV Helios Ray was hit by a blast above the water line overnight 25-26 February. A defense official from the United States said that holes were ripped in both sides of the hull on the vehicle-carrier ship. There were no casualties in the attack.

“This was indeed an operation by Iran. That is clear,” said Netanyahu, speaking to the public Kan radio station.

When asked about retaliation, the Israeli leader reiterated his previous vow to prevent Iran from developing nuclear capacity, stressing: “We are striking at it (Iran) all over the region.”

The remarks follow allegations on Saturday from Israeli Alternate Premier and Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Saturday that an initial assessment had found that Iran was behind the attack. “Iran is looking to hit Israeli infrastructure and Israeli citizens,” he said, also speaking to the public broadcaster, adding that even though a deeper investigation will be carried out Iran is the logical culprit due to “relative close proximity” and “context” of the ship to the Islamic Republic.

Both Gantz and Netanyahu’s interviews were recorded prior to fresh Syrian accusations that the IDF launched missile strikes around southern Damascus last night.

Israel officials neither confirmed or denied the attack, but the government has previously acknowledged frequent military actions against Iranian deployment or weapons shipments to its proxies in Syria.

The Helios Ray is owned by a Tel Aviv company called Ray Shipping through a company registered in the Isle of Man, according to a United Nations shipping database. The vessel is now docked in Dubai, said a spokesman for DP World, which owns and operates dry docks where ship repairs and maintenance are carried out.

Israeli defense officials believe 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, reported the local Channel 13 News, adding that an Israeli delegation has flown to Dubai to further probe the incident.

The Dryad Global maritime security firm said the ship had been en route to Singapore from Dammam in Saudi Arabia, adding in a statement, “Whilst details regarding the incident remain unclear it remains a realistic possibility that the event was the result of asymmetric activity by Iranian military.”

“The damage is two holes, diameter approximately 1.5 meters, but it is not yet clear to us if this was caused by missile fire or mines that were attached to the ship. There is no damage to the engine,” Kan cited ship owner Rami Ungar as saying, adding that he did not know if the incident was related to past “tensions between Iran and the United States and whether there is a link to the fact the ship’s owner is Israeli.”

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh stated in a televised news conference today “strongly rejected” allegation of involvement, as “the security of the Persian Gulf is extremely important” for his nation.

In November 2020, the Ayatollah Regime vowed to carry out a “calculated” response to the assassination of its top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, which it blamed on Israel.

After reporting that “Investigations are ongoing,” the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) urged vessels in the area to exercise caution in an advisory notice issued on Friday.

The US Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet said it was aware of the incident and monitoring the situation.

Tensions have spiked in the Gulf region since Washington re-imposed sanctions on Tehran in 2018 after then-President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal.

An estimated one-third of the world’s liquefied natural gas and about 25% of total global oil consumption passes through the Strait of Hormuz, the nearby waterway to which the Islamic Republic has laid claim.

The US has blamed Iran for a number of attacks on shipping in strategic Gulf waters, most notably in 2019 against 4 vessels that included 2 Saudi oil tankers.

Iran has also denied carrying out those attacks.

At the start of 2021, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) seized the  South Korean-flagged Hankuk Chemi tanker in Gulf waters and detained its crew, amid rising hostility with Washington-ally Seoul over frozen Iranian funds in the Asian nation’s banks due to US sanctions.