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Iran rejects Israel's 'baseless accusations' over deadly ship attack

The US and Britain have also accused Iran of launching the attack, which left a British and Romanian national dead
Iran Saeed Khatibzadeh
Iran's foreign ministry spokesperson, Saeed Khatibzadeh, rejects Israel's accusation of Iranian involvement in Thursday's oil tank attack in the Arabian Sea, 1 August 2021 (Screengrab/Iranian Foreign Ministry Twitter)

Iran's foreign ministry on Sunday rejected "baseless accusations" after Israel blamed its arch-foe for a deadly attack on an oil tanker off the coast of Oman.

"The Zionist regime has created insecurity, terror and violence... These accusations about Iran's involvement are condemned by Tehran," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh told a weekly news conference streamed online.  

"Such accusations are meant by Israel to divert attention from facts and are baseless ... and it is not their first time to direct such accusations at Iran."

Khatibzadeh added that "Iran will not hesitate for a moment to defend its... interests and national security.”

The Mercer Street oil product tanker, managed by prominent Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer, was attacked in the northern Indian Ocean on Thursday in what the United States said appeared to be a drone strike. 

Israel calls for UN action against Iran over ship attack in Arabian sea
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Vessel operator Zodiac Maritime said a British security guard and a Romanian crew member were killed in the attack.

The ship was travelling from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates with no cargo aboard when it was struck, Zodiac Maritime said.

Israel has blamed Iran for the incident. 

On Sunday, shortly after Khatibzadeh's statement, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett accused Tehran of  "cowardly" denial.

""I just heard that Iran, in a cowardly manner, is trying to shirk its responsibility for the incident, they are denying it," he told a weekly cabinet meeting.

"So I determine unequivocally: Iran is the one that carried out the attack on the ship. Iran's bully manners are dangerous not only to Israel but also harm global interests, the Freedom of Navigation and international trade.

Bennett added that "intelligence evidence exists", and Israel expected the international community to "clarify" to Iran that it'd "made a big mistake".

"We, in any case, have our own way to relay the message to Iran," he added.

On Friday, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he had ordered the nation's diplomats to push for UN action against Iranian “terrorism”.

There were varying explanations for what happened to the tanker. Zodiac Maritime described the incident as "suspected piracy" and a source at the Oman Maritime Security Centre as an accident that occurred outside Omani territorial waters.

'Unacceptable attack'

US and European sources familiar with intelligence reporting said Iran was their leading suspect for the incident, which a US defence official said appeared to have been carried out by a drone, but stressed their governments were seeking conclusive evidence.

On Sunday, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab issued a statement condemning Iran for the “unacceptable attack” on Mercer Street using "one or more Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)”.

“We believe this attack was deliberate, targeted, and a clear violation of international law by Iran.

“Iran must end such attacks, and vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law. The UK is working with our international partners on a concerted response to this unacceptable attack,” Raab said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was "confident that Iran conducted this attack," and vowed that an "appropriate response" was forthcoming.

Later Sunday, Lapid noted he had spoken with Blinken and Raab in recent days, and that he was "pleased" both countries "condemned these terrorist acts".

"Israel will continue to hold conversations with our allies around the world and work together to formulate the necessary steps to combat ongoing Iranian terror," Lapid said in a statement.

Israel's chief of staff has spoken to his British counterpart about "recent events in the region and common challenges faced by both countries", a statement said.

Retired general Yossi Kuperwasser told military radio Israel would probably follow two tacks - create global pressure against Iran and retain its ability to act "beyond the diplomatic realm".