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 has further heightened security concerns in the region.
Without giving any evidence for his claim, Netanyahu told the Israeli public broadcaster, “This is really Iran’s act, it is clear.”
“Iran is Israel’s greatest enemy. I am determined to stop it. We are attacking the whole region,” Netanyahu said. Iran immediately dismissed the allegations.
Israel-owned MV The bomber struck shortly after noon in front of a Helios Ray, a Bahamian-flagged roll-off cargo ship en route from the Middle East to Singapore on Friday. The crew was unharmed, but U.S. defense officials said the ship had two holes on its port side and two holes on its Starboard side above the waterline.
As tensions with Iran escalated, the ship arrived in the port of Dubai for repairs just days after the bombing, which renewed security concerns on the Midwest waterways.
Iran has sought to pressure the United States to lift sanctions on Tehran as President Joe Biden’s administration considers its willingness to return to talks with Iran over its nuclear program. Biden has said the United States will return to the nuclear deal between Tehran and the world powers, with his predecessor Donald Trump stepping down in 2018 only after Iran regains full compliance with the deal.
The explosion on an Israeli-owned ship last week is reminiscent of the tense summer of 2019, when the U.S. military accused Iran of attacking several oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman with limpet mines designed to magnetically attach to the surface of a ship. The Gulf of Oman passes through the narrow waters of the Strait of Hormuz, a major route for the world’s oil supply. Tehran has denied allegations that it was behind the mine attacks.
It is not clear what caused the blast on Friday at Helios Ray. The ship unloaded the cars at various ports in the Persian Gulf. Over the weekend, both the Israeli defense minister and the army chief pointed out that Iran was responsible for what they said was an attack on the ship.
Iran responded to Netanyahu’s statement by saying it “strongly rejected” the claim that it was behind the attack. At a press conference, Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Gaddafi described Netanyahu as “suffering from rage with Iran” and described his allegations as “intimidating”.
He vowed that Israel would take “suspicious actions in the region” against Iran in recent months, undermining the 2015 nuclear deal, and without elaborating, that Iran would respond.
“Israel is well aware that our response in the field of national security has always been harsh and precise,” he said.
Overnight, Syrian state media reported a series of Israeli airstrikes near Damascus, claiming that air defense systems had intercepted most of the missiles. Airstrikes are said to have been aimed at Iranian targets in response to the ship attack.
Netanyahu has repeatedly said that Israel has attacked hundreds of Iranian targets in neighboring Syria in recent years, and that Israel will not accept a permanent Iranian military presence there. Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah have provided military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war for more than a decade.
The Israeli military declined to comment.
Iran has blamed a series of attacks last summer, including the destruction of an advanced centrifugal assembly plant at its Natanz nuclear plant last summer and the assassination of Mohsen Bakrizadeh, the top Iranian scientist who established two of the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program, decades ago. Iran has repeatedly vowed to avenge Fakhrzedev’s assassination.
“It is very important that Iran does not have nuclear weapons, with or without an agreement. I told my friend Biden this,” Netanyahu said on Monday.
Iranian retaliatory threats have raised warnings in Israel since the signing of naturalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in September.
The report was co-authored by Dubai-based Associated Press writers Isabel Debre, the United Arab Emirates and Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran.