G7 foreign ministers have said “all available evidence clearly points to Iran” being behind a drone attack on July 29 against an Israel-linked tanker that killed a former British soldier and Romanian national.
“This was a deliberate and targeted attack, and a clear violation of international law … There is no justification for this attack,” the ministers from the world’s seven most developed nations said in a statement on Friday.
The vessel was a Liberian-flagged, Japanese-owned petroleum products tanker managed by Israeli-owned Zodiac Maritime.
Iran has strongly denied having any link to the attack on the MV Mercer Street, which came as tensions grow in the region and talks to revive the 2015 deal on the Iranian nuclear programme at a standstill.
But European countries and the United States renewed their accusations at a closed-door Security Council meeting at the UN headquarters in New York on Friday.
“The UK knows that Iran was responsible for this attack. We know it was deliberate and targeted,” said British Ambassador to the UN Barbara Woodward, who added the evidence was “clear cut”.
“The door for diplomacy and dialogue remains open. But if Iran chooses not to take that route, then we would seek to hold Iran to account and apply a cost to that,” she told reporters.
The Security Council is due to discuss the incident further at an open meeting on maritime security on Monday.
The G7 ministers said “vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law” and promised to “do our utmost to protect all shipping, upon which the global economy depends”.
“Iran’s behaviour, alongside its support to proxy forces and non-state armed actors, threatens international peace and security,” they said, calling on Tehran to stop all activities inconsistent with the Security Council resolutions.
‘Iran will not hesitate to defend itself’
The United States and Israel have pointed the finger at Iran for being behind the attack on the tanker, which is managed by a prominent Israeli businessman in London.
Iran’s deputy UN Ambassador Zahra Ershadi rejected the accusations that Tehran was behind the attack and warned against any retaliation: “Iran will not hesitate to defend itself and secure its national interests.”
On Saturday, its foreign ministry called the accusations “baseless”.
“For those who are familiar with the history of the region, the design of such conspiracies at different junctures by the Israeli regime is nothing new,” foreign ministry Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement.
The US military, in a separate statement, said explosives experts from the Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier – which deployed to assist the Mercer Street – concluded the drone was produced in Iran.
It said the explosives experts were able to recover several pieces of a drone, including a part of the wing and internal components which it said were nearly identical to previously collected samples of Iranian attack drones.
The US military also suggested the attack may have been launched from the Iranian coast, saying the distance to the locations of the attacks “was within the range of documented Iranian one-way attack” drones.
“Some of the material was transferred to US Fifth Fleet headquarters in Manama, Bahrain and subsequently to a US national laboratory for further testing and verification,” Central Command, which oversees US forces in the region, said in the statement.
Security analysts have said the fatal attack upped the stakes in the “shadow war” against vessels linked to Iran and Israel.
On Tuesday, Iran was again blamed for an alleged hijacking of an asphalt and bitumen tanker in the Gulf of Oman, prompting more denials from the Islamic republic.
The tensions have come as hardline former judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi took over this week as Iranian president following his victory in the June elections, replacing Hassan Rouhani who was seen as a more moderate figure.