The United States, the United Kingdom and Russia gave Israel the “green light” on Sunday to attack Iranian targets following a deadly drone strike last Friday on an Israeli-owned cargo ship in the Gulf of Oman, Kuwait-based newspaper Al-Jarida reported, quoting American officials.
Both the U.S. and the U.K. joined Israel in alleging that Iran carried out the fatal drone strike on the oil tanker Mercer Street, putting further pressure on Tehran as it denied being involved in the assault.
Calling it an “unlawful and callous attack,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said his country and its allies planned a coordinated response over the strike Thursday night on the oil tanker Mercer Street.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken soon followed, saying there was “no justification for this attack, which follows a pattern of attacks and other belligerent behavior.”
“We are working with our partners to consider our next steps and consulting with governments inside the region and beyond on an appropriate response, which will be forthcoming,” Blinken added.
The strike on the Mercer Street marked the first-known fatal attack after years of assaults on commercial shipping in the region linked to tensions with Iran over its tattered nuclear deal.
While no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, Iran and its militia allies have used so-called “suicide” drones in attacks previously, which crash into targets and detonate their explosive payloads.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett went further than Blinken and Raab in his remarks Sunday at the Cabinet meeting, saying, “I declare unequivocally: Iran is the one that carried out the attack on the ship.” He then accused Tehran of “trying to shirk responsibility” for the attack and called its denial “cowardly.”
He then made a point to stare directly into the camera and slowly warn: “We know, at any rate, how to convey the message to Iran in our own way.”
The drone attack blasted a hole through the top of the oil tanker’s bridge, where the captain and crew command the vessel, a U.S. official said. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity as an investigation into the attack still was ongoing. The blast killed two crew members from the United Kingdom and Romania.
Photographs of the damage caused to the bridge of the vessel were published by foreign media outlets.
The U.S. Navy said the American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the guided-missile destroyer USS Mitscher had escorted the Mercer Street as it headed to a safe port. On Sunday, satellite-tracking information from MarineTraffic.com showed the tanker stopped off the coast of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates.
In his statement, Raab said it was “highly likely” Iran attacked the tanker with one or more drones.
“We believe this attack was deliberate, targeted and a clear violation of international law by Iran,” he said. “Iran must end such attacks, and vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law.”
Blinken similarly described the U.S. as “confident” Iran carried out the attack, using multiple drones.
“These actions threaten freedom of navigation through this crucial waterway, international shipping and commerce, and the lives of those on the vessels involved,” he said in a statement.
Israeli officials expressed satisfaction over the American and British responses, which essentially signaled that the two powers, and not Israel, will take the lead on retaliating against Iran for the ship attack. The belief in Israel is that Washington and London, at least initially, will bring diplomatic measures to bear against Iran, among other things, by convening the United Nations Security Council and issuing a statement of condemnation against the regime in Tehran.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid spoke with Blinken as well about the need for a unified response against Iranian belligerence in the region.
“Iran has time and again underestimated Israel’s determination to defend itself and its interests,” Lapid said.
Earlier, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh described the allegation that Iran carried out the attack as “baseless.”
“It’s not the first time that the Zionist regime occupying Jerusalem has made such empty accusations against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Khatibzadeh said. “Wherever this regime has gone, it has taken instability, terror and violence with it.”