DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – The Israeli prime minister on Sunday blamed Iran for a drone attack on an oil tanker off the coast of Oman that killed two people, threatening veiled retaliation as Tehran denied being involved in the assault.
The remarks by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh come after Thursday night’s strike against the oil tanker Mercer Street. The attack marked the first known deadly attack after years of attacks on commercial shipping in the region linked to tensions with Iran over its tattered nuclear deal.
Although no one claimed responsibility for the attack, Iran and its militia allies have used so-called “suicide” drones in attacks in the past.
“The Iranians who attacked Mercer Street with unmanned planes intended to harm an Israeli target,” Bennett said at the start of the weekly Israeli Cabinet meeting. “Instead, their act of piracy caused the deaths of a British citizen and a Romanian citizen.”
He warned, “We know, anyway, how to get the message across to Iran in our own way. “
On Sunday, Khatibzadeh called “baseless” the allegation that Iran made at its last press conference as a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry.
“This is 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. ”
He added: “He who sows the wind will reap the storm. “
Khatibzadeh spoke about an hour after the outgoing Iranian president admitted that his government sometimes “failed to tell part of the truth” to the public during his tenure.
The US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the guided-missile destroyer USS Mitscher escorted Mercer Street as it made its way to a safe port, the US Navy’s Middle East-based 5th Fleet said in a statement. press release Saturday morning. He said Navy explosives experts believe a drone attacked the ship.
The drone attack left a hole in the top of the tanker’s deck, where the captain and crew are in command of the ship, a US official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as an investigation into the attack was still ongoing.
Mercer Street is managed by London-based Zodiac Maritime, which is part of the Zodiac group of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer. The company said the attack killed two crew members, one from the UK and one from Romania. He did not name them and did not describe what happened during the assault. He said he believed no other crew on board were injured.
Britain’s maritime security company Ambrey said the attack on Mercer Street killed one of its team on board the ship.
From Jerusalem, Bennett offered his condolences to the UK and Romania for the murder of their citizens. He said Israeli intelligence had evidence linking Iran to the attack, but failed to provide it.
“Iran is the one who carried out the attack on the ship,” he said. “Iran’s aggressive behavior is dangerous not only for Israel, but harms global interests in freedom of navigation and international trade.
Bennett took office as prime minister in June after a coalition deal toppled longtime Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu is suspected of launching a series of attacks on Iran, including explosions at the country’s main enrichment site and the murder of a prominent military nuclear scientist.
However, Bennett has also made hawkish comments in the past about the need to attack “the head of the octopus” in Tehran as opposed to regional Iranian militias like Hezbollah in Lebanon. The attack on Mercer Street is the first in his tenure as Prime Minister and analysts suggest he could seek a major attack in retaliation.
“Israel may want to strike a resounding blow; this is the spirit of comments from political sources in Jerusalem, ”wrote Amos Harel, longtime military analyst for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. “This coup will aim to end things without a coup-d’etat that could escalate. But as usual, events also depend on the other side.
Associated Press editors Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed to this report.