Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on February 27 that Iran is likely behind an explosion earlier this week on an Israeli-owned cargo vessel in the Gulf of Oman.
The MV Helios Ray, a vehicle carrier, was traveling from the Saudi port of Dammam to Singapore when it was struck by an explosion on February 25.
“The location of the ship in relative close proximity to Iran raises the belief that Iran was responsible, but it must still be verified,” Gantz told Israeli state television Kan.
“Right now, at an initial assessment level, given the proximity and the context that is my assessment,” Gantz said.
Iran blamed Israel for the assassination of its top nuclear scientist in November and vowed to retaliate.
Gantz said it was known Iran was looking to target Israeli infrastructure and citizens.
Kan television reported later that top Israeli defense and political leaders on February 28 would discuss a response to the apparent attack, citing officials as saying it “crossed a red line.”
The explosion did not cause any casualties but left two 1.5-meter diameter holes in the side of the vessel, the ship’s Israeli owner, Rami Ungar, told Kan on February 26.
Tracking data on Marinetraffic.com showed the Bahamas-flagged vessel currently docked in Dubai. The ship is registered in the British Isle of Man.
Dryad Global, a British maritime security company, suggested a “realistic probability” Iran was behind the explosion.
“Such activity would be commensurate with current tensions and Iranian intent to exercise forceful diplomacy through military means within its immediate area of interest,” Dryad said.
The explosion occurred around the same time as U.S. air strikes on February 25 targeted Iran-backed militia groups in eastern Syria believed to be behind a spate of recent rocket attacks on U.S. interests in Iraq.
It also comes amid rising tensions between the United States and Iran over the fate of the 2015 nuclear deal.
President Joe Biden says his new administration is open to diplomacy with Tehran after his predecessor Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear accord and reimposed sanctions, prompting Iran to gradually breach its commitments.
But the two sides remain locked in disagreement over which country must move first, with Iran wanting immediate sanctions relief and the United States demanding Iran first return to compliance with its nuclear commitments.
Israel has been one of the most vocal opponents of the nuclear accord.
Iran or its regional proxies are believed to be behind a number of attacks on shipping in the strategic Persian Gulf in recent years, including incidents involving two Saudi oil tankers in May 2019. Iran has denied carrying out those attacks.
With reporting by AFP, dpa, Kan Television, and Reuters