Tehran, Iran – The Iranian government has rejected claims by Israel, the United States, and the United Kingdom that it was behind an attack on a ship off Oman earlier this week that killed two crew members.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh condemned the allegations during a virtual news conference on Sunday, saying this was not the first time Israel has made such claims.
“Wherever this regime has gone, it has brought with itself insecurity, terror and violence. Those responsible [for this attack] are the ones that allowed the Israeli regime to set foot in this region,” he said.
“Whoever sows wind will reap a storm,” Khatibzadeh said, adding that Iran will defend its national security wherever necessary.
Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street, managed by a company belonging to Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer, was struck late on Thursday northeast of the Omani island of Masirah, in an apparent drone attack that killed a Romanian and a UK national.
Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Naftali Bennet, have alleged Iran was behind the hit but have yet to provide evidence.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, at the Cabinet meeting today:
"The world recently received a reminder of Iranian aggression, this time on the high seas. The Iranians, who attacked the ship 'Mercer Street' with UAVs, intended to attack an Israeli target.https://t.co/g0BpFHJKEy pic.twitter.com/Tj3zkqkBm3
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) August 1, 2021
“I just heard that Iran, in a cowardly manner, is trying to shirk responsibility for the event. They are denying this. I determine, with absolute certainty: Iran carried out the attack against the ship,” Bennett said at the cabinet meeting on Sunday, as posted on the Israeli PM’s Twitter account.
“The intelligence evidence for this exists and we expect the international community will make it clear to the Iranian regime that they have made a serious mistake. In any case, we know how to send a message to Iran in our own way.”
US State Secretary Anthony Blinken said on Sunday he was “confident” Iran conducted the attack using armed drones.
“There is no justification for this attack, which follows a pattern of attacks and other belligerent behaviour,” he said in a statement, adding that the US is consulting with governments in and beyond the region on an “appropriate response”.
In a statement published on Sunday, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said it was “highly likely” Iran attacked the tanker in international waters with one or more drones.
“We believe this attack was deliberate, targeted and a clear violation of international law by Iran,” he said. “Iran must stop such attacks, and vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law.”
UK believes the attack on MV MERCER STREET was carried out by Iran and was deliberate, targeted and unlawful. The UK calls on Iran to immediately cease actions that risk regional & international peace & security. Full statement⬇️https://t.co/2hZAfoTqBZ
— Dominic Raab (@DominicRaab) August 1, 2021
After the attack, US Navy vessels escorted the Mercer Street as it headed to a safe port.
Further update on the situation involving the M/T Mercer Street: pic.twitter.com/1KiHCGYEoq
— Zodiac Maritime (@Zodiac_Maritime) July 30, 2021
Foes Iran and Israel have frequently accused each other over the years of attacks on interests, vessels and nuclear facilities. But their years-long enmity has intensified in recent months as world powers try to salvage Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal which, if successful, would lift harsh US sanctions on Iran.
The incident involving the Mercer Street took place days before Ebrahim Raisi is due to be inaugurated as Iran’s eighth president on Thursday. The hardline judge has promised to work to restore the accord, unilaterally abandoned by the US in 2018, but the fate of the deal is still unclear as several key issues remain unsolved.
A seventh and potentially final round of talks in Austria’s capital, Vienna, is expected to commence soon after Raisi assumes office.
Observers expect Iran and the US to be at odds over which sanctions should be lifted and how, and how Tehran needs to scale back its nuclear programme that has significantly expanded after the US abandonment of the nuclear deal.