Iran ‘strongly rejects’ Israeli accusation it attacked ship

Israel has alleged Iran is responsible for last week’s mysterious explosion on MV Helios Ray in Gulf of Oman.

The Israeli-owned Bahamian-flagged MV Helios Ray cargo ship docked in Dubai's Mina Rashid [Ali Haider/EPA]

Iran’s foreign ministry has “strongly rejected” Israel’s claim that it was responsible for last week’s blast on an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the accusation in an interview that aired on Monday with Israeli public broadcaster Kan – but offered no evidence for his claim.

The MV Helios Ray, a vehicle-carrier ship, was hit overnight on Friday by a blast above the waterline that a US official said ripped holes in both sides of its hull. The vessel docked at Dubai’s port for repairs on Sunday. It remains unclear what caused the blast.

Iran’s foreign ministry said Netanyahu’s recent remarks stem from his “obsessive” behaviour towards the country.

“The source of these allegations itself lacks credibility the most,” Saeed Khatibzadeh, the foreign ministry’s spokesman, said in a press conference in Tehran on Monday.

He said Iran considers recent Israeli actions in the region “suspicious” and reserves the right to respond decisively, while also reiterating Tehran’s stance that it never has and never will seek nuclear weapons.

Earlier, Iran’s hardline Kayhan daily alleged the Helios Ray was “possibly” on an “espionage” mission in the region, without offering any evidence to support the claim.

On Saturday, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said an initial assessment had found Iran was responsible for the explosion, while the Israeli ambassador to the United States and United Nations appeared to blame Tehran for the blast.

Israeli defence officials have flown to Dubai to investigate the incident, Haaretz newspaper reported.

The hawkish Israeli prime minister, who is seeking re-election in the country’s fourth election within two years, sidestepped a question on whether Israel will retaliate. Instead, he repeated previous statements about his determination to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

“Iran is the greatest enemy of Israel, I am determined to halt it. We are hitting it in the entire region,” said Netanyahu, a strident critic of Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Kan said the interview was recorded on Sunday night, before Syria accused Israel of carrying out missile attacks around southern Damascus.

Israeli media reports said the alleged air raids were on Iranian targets in response to the ship attack.

The Israeli military declined to comment.

Israel has struck hundreds of Iranian targets in Syria in recent years, and Netanyahu has repeatedly said Israel will not accept a permanent Iranian military presence in its neighbour.

Iran has also blamed Israel for a recent series of attacks, including a mysterious explosion last summer that destroyed an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at its Natanz nuclear facility and the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top Iranian scientist who founded the country’s military nuclear programme 20 years ago.

Tehran has repeatedly promised to avenge Fakhrizadeh’s killing.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies