The diplomatic fallout from a deadly attack on an oil tanker off the coast of Oman escalated on Monday, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson branding it “outrageous” as London summoned Iran’s ambassador over the incident.
A British national was one of the two crew members on board the MV Mercer Street merchant vessel who were killed during Thursday’s incident. The other was a Romanian national.
The United Kingdom, the United States and Israel have all blamed Tehran for the attack on the vessel, which is operated by the London-based ship management company Zodiac Maritime owned by Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer.
Iran has denied it was behind the attack but United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday said the US was attributing the bombing to Iran and warned of a “collective response”.
“We conducted a thorough review and we’re confident that Iran carried out this attack,” Secretary Blinken told reporters at the State Department in Washington, DC.
“It follows a pattern of similar attacks by Iran including past incidents with explosive drones,” Blinken said.
James Cleverly, the UK’s minister for the Middle East, summoned Mohsen Baharvand.
“Minister Cleverly reiterated that Iran must immediately cease actions that risk international peace and security, and reinforced that vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law,” the Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office said in a statement on Monday.
Today, I summoned Iranian Ambassador to the UK, Mohsen Baharvand, to the FCDO.
I called on Iran to immediately stop destabilising actions that seek to undermine international peace & security. Iran’s callous attack on MV MERCER STREET was unacceptable. https://t.co/eMs6LdwTXv
— James Cleverly🇬🇧 (@JamesCleverly) August 2, 2021
Both London and Washington have pledged to work with their allies to respond to the attack on the Liberian-flagged, Japanese-owned petroleum tanker.
Johnson said on Monday that Iran must face up to the consequences of its “outrageous” attack.
“Iran should face up to the consequences of what they’ve done,” he told reporters. “This was clearly an unacceptable and outrageous attack on commercial shipping.”
“A UK national died. It is absolutely vital that Iran and every other country, respects the freedoms of navigation around the world and the UK will continue to insist on that.”
But the response to date from London and Washington has infuriated Tehran, which has denied any involvement in the attack.
On Monday, Iran summoned the British chargé d’affaires in Tehran over London’s “accusations against the Islamic Republic”, the country’s semi-official Fars news agency reported.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the foreign ministry cautioned Tehran would respond promptly to any threat against its security amid the simmering tensions.
“Iran has no hesitation in protecting its security and national interests and will respond promptly and strongly to any possible adventure,” Iranian state television quoted foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh as saying on Monday.
Khatibzadeh “strongly regretted the baseless accusations made by the British foreign secretary against Iran, which were repeated by the US secretary of state in the same context and contained contradictory, false and provocative accusations”, it reported.
The attack on the MV Mercer Street marked the first known fatal attack after years of assaults on commercial shipping in the region since 2019.
The US, Israel and others have blamed the attacks on Iran amid the unravelling of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
The UK said on Sunday it was highly likely that Iran carried out the attack on the MV Mercer Street using one or two drones.
The US Navy, which was escorting the tanker with the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, said on Saturday that early indications “clearly pointed” to a drone attack.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had accused Tehran of “trying to shirk responsibility” for the attack, and called its denial “cowardly”.
Israel’s foreign minister said on Sunday the incident deserved a strong response.
However, an unnamed Iranian official told the country’s Nournews news agency earlier that Tehran considered “the threats of Western officials and the Zionist regime [Israel] to be more of a propaganda gesture”.
“And Washington and London will be directly responsible for the consequences,” the official told Nournews, which is close to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.
Iran and Israel have exchanged a slew of accusations of carrying out attacks on each other’s vessels in recent months.
The exchanges have come amid high-level negotiations aimed at salvaging the nuclear deal, which was dealt a major blow in 2018 when then-US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew Washington from the accord and reimposed punishing economic sanctions on Iran.
Israel has voiced concerns about efforts by Tehran and current US President Joe Biden’s administration to revive the nuclear pact, under which Iran curbed its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.