Israel Launches Diplomatic Offensive After Iranian Attack on Israeli-Owned Tanker

YERUSHALAYIM -
Sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 5 board an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter, attached to the “Golden Falcons” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 12, are seen on the flight deck of aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), in response to a call for assistance from the Mercer Street, a Japanese-owned Liberian-flagged tanker managed by Israeli-owned Zodiac Maritime, Friday. (U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters)

Israel on Friday accused Iran of having carried out an attack off Oman on a tanker managed by an Israeli-owned company and said a harsh response was needed.

In a statement, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he had told Britain’s foreign secretary of the need for a tough response to the attack in which two crew people, one British and the other Romanian, were killed.

“Iran is not just an Israeli problem, but an exporter of terrorism, destruction and instability that harms us all. The world must not be silent in the face of Iranian terrorism that also harms freedom of shipping,” Lapid said in the statement.

U.S. Navy explosive experts believe a “drone strike” targeted the oil tanker Mercer Street, the American military said Saturday.

Channel 12 News reported that Israel has provided the U.S. and U.K. with intelligence showing Iran was responsible for the attack

The strike Thursday night marked the first-known fatal attack after years of assaults on commercial shipping in the region linked to tensions with Iran.

Lapid also spoke with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The U.S. State Department said the two diplomats “agreed to work with the United Kingdom, Romania and other international partners to investigate the facts, provide support and consider the appropriate next steps.”

While Iran did not directly acknowledge the attack, the strike comes as Tehran now appears poised to take an even tougher approach with the West as the country prepares to inaugurate new hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi later this week.

An Israeli intelligence official told The New York Times that the timing of the attack could mean that Iran was expanding its maritime operations by apparently responding at sea to a land attack – in Syria – which Tehran blamed on Israel.

State-owned Iranian news network Al-Alam, citing “well-informed sources,” said the attack was in response to a reported Israeli strike in Syria that killed “two resistance men” last week.

Lapid has instructed the embassies in London, Washington and New York to discuss the need for a diplomatic response with the relevant parties in the British and American governments as well as at the United Nations.

Israeli diplomats and emissaries across the globe, meanwhile, have been instructed to highlight the connection between Raisi’s bloody past as a brutal oppressor of his own people and Thursday’s deadly attack at sea, in an effort to shine a light and expose the nature of the Iranian regime.

Israel also intends to respond militarily, although apparently only at a later date and only after its exhausts the diplomatic course.

Israel is also seeking an international investigation into the attack and for the United Nations Security Council to convene on the matter, unnamed Israeli officials told the Walla news portal.

An Israeli official told Israel Hayom that “there will be an Israeli response, military and diplomatic, but it will be carried out in a manner that serves us and not the other side.”

A senior Israeli government source said on condition of anonymity Friday that “Iran is sowing violence and destruction in every corner of the region. They were so eager to attack an Israeli target that they’ve embroiled themselves and incriminated themselves in the killing of foreign citizens.”

The source said that with a new hard-line Iranian president set to be sworn in, “the masks are coming off and no one can pretend they don’t know the character of the Iranian regime.”

“Iran isn’t just Israel’s problem, it is a global problem, and its behavior endangers free global shipping and trade. Our campaign against them will continue,” the official said.

The American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the guided-missile destroyer USS Mitscher were escorting the Mercer Street as it headed to a safe port, the U.S. Navy’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet said in a statement early Saturday.

The Mercer Street is managed by London-based Zodiac Maritime, part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group.

The attack on the Mercer Street also came the night after Blinken, speaking from Kuwait, warned Iran that talks in Vienna over the nuclear deal “cannot go on indefinitely.”

The attack was the second time this month a ship tied to Ofer apparently has been targeted. In early July, the Liberian-flagged container ship CSAV Tyndall, once tied to Zodiac Maritime, suffered an unexplained explosion on board while in the northern Indian Ocean, according to the US Maritime Administration.