Israel blames Iran for ship attack after Tehran’s denial

Israel’s prime minister said Iran was “unequivocally” to blame for a deadly attack on an Israel-linked oil tanker off Oman on Thursday, shortly after Tehran denied responsibility.

Naftali Bennett’s comments were echoed later by the U.K. foreign secretary, who called the incident a violation of international law by Tehran.

“I want to say unequivocally that Iran was the one that attacked the ship,” Israel’s Bennett said on Sunday, in response to Iran’s denial. “We expect the international community to clarify to the Iranian regime that it made a terrible mistake. We have our ways of getting the message to Iran.”

U.S., Israeli and now U.K. officials have said Iran was to blame for the attack, without offering evidence. Two crew members — a Romanian and a Briton — died on board the Mercer Street, the first fatalities in years in the volatile shipping corridor.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement that the U.K. believes “this attack was deliberate, targeted, and a clear violation of international law by Iran.”

U.S. Navy experts on Saturday said they believe the oil-products tanker was struck by a drone. In his statement Raab said “one or more” drones may have been involved.

“Israel should stop leveling such accusations against Iran,” a spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, Saeed Khatibzadeh, said in a press briefing in Tehran on Sunday. “It’s not the first time that Israel is making such accusations.”

Iran and Israel have traded multiple accusations of shipping attacks in recent months. They’ve happened amid efforts by world powers to restore a 2015 pact that limited Tehran’s nuclear activities in return for an easing of U.S. sanctions. Israel is against a lifting of sanctions or a revival of the deal.

The 600-foot tanker was sailing, empty of cargo, from Tanzania’s Dar es Salam to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates, said London-based Zodiac Maritime Ltd., manager of the vessel.

Zodiac is controlled by real estate and shipping magnate Eyal Ofer and operates the Japanese-owned carrier. Ofer is among Israel’s richest people, with a net worth of $11.3 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

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