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Netanyahu blames Iran for attack on Israeli cargo ship; Iranian targets in Syria struck in possible retaliation

Incident calls into question safety of Israeli vessels in Gulf of Oman

(credits: Katsumi Yamamoto, MarineTraffic.com)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Iran for the blast on the Israeli cargo ship in the Gulf of Oman last week.

“This was indeed an operation by Iran. That is clear,” Netanyahu told Kan radio on Monday.

“Iran is the greatest enemy of Israel, I am determined to halt it. We are hitting it in the entire region,” Netanyahu added.

Israel reportedly bombed Iranian targets in Syria on Sunday in a possible retaliation for the attack on the Helios Ray, an Israeli-owned cargo ship.

The Israeli military did not comment on the airstrikes. The Syrian army said the attack originated in the Golan Heights and reached targets near Damascus.

Education Minister Yoav Galant, a former navy admiral, said photos from the attack show that holes in the ship's hull resulted from “a mine affixed to the exterior, apparently in a nighttime navy commando operation.”

Galant further noted that despite the ship sailing under a different flag, that it could have easily been owned by an Israeli company and that the attack took place near the Iranian territory. He said that a formal investigation confirms his observations.

Tehran officially claims it had nothing to do with the attack on the ship.

“We strongly reject this accusation... the security of the Persian Gulf is extremely important for Iran,” Saeed Khatibzadeh, Foreign Ministry spokesman, said on Monday.

However, Iranian-controlled newspaper, Kayhan, on Sunday reported that the attack on the Israeli vessel was a response to such airstrikes by Israel on Iranian targets in Syria and Iraq, and that the attackers cannot be traced. It did not claim whether the attackers were Iranian or a proxy of Iran.

Former Israeli defense officials who spoke with The Jerusalem Post said that the Iranians knew what they were doing.

  • “This is a clear Iranian signal,” said a former senior defense official experienced in combating Iran as well as its at-sea capabilities. “The Iranians knew exactly who they are hitting, and if they wanted to sink the ship they could have done that.” 

  • The source added that Iranians understand the consequences of drowning a commercial ship. The idea of sailing freely across the globe for commercial purposes is highly valued among Western countries, and Iran knows that such a move would come with a price.

  • “The Iranians understand the delicacy of the matter,” he said. “What they carried out was a clever tactical attack that they could do without getting into trouble and without strategic consequences.”

An editorial in Ynet said this spells uncertainty for the safety of Israeli vessels in the Gulf.

  • "Iran has identified Israel's vulnerability in its maritime transportation of goods in the Persian Gulf, sending a message that Israeli vessels will be defenseless when traveling in that international body of water."

The Helios Ray, which flies under a Bahamian flag, docked in Dubai on Sunday for repairs. It sustained two holes on its port side and two on its starboard side just above the waterline, according to American defense officials.

The vessel’s owner is a Tel Aviv firm called Ray Shipping Ltd. The ship was apparently carrying vehicles and was on its way from Saudi Arabia to Singapore when it was struck. No one from the crew was reported injured and the ship was able to maneuver to port on its own. 

Israel has been concerned with retribution from Iran since the killing of its top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in November – a targeted assassination blamed on Israel.

Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS

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