Prime Minister Naftali Bennett issued a warning to Iran Tuesday, following a deadly drone attack last week on a ship with ties to Israel in the Gulf of Oman, which Israel has blamed on the Islamic Republic.
“They can’t sit calmly in Tehran while igniting the entire Middle East — that’s over,” Bennett said as he toured Israel’s northern border with top military officials.
“We are working to enlist the whole world, but when the time comes, we know how to act alone,” the premier said. “Iran knows the price that we’ll exact when anyone threatens our security.”
Bennett also criticized the European Union over the planned attendance of a top diplomat at the swearing-in of Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi.
“Raisi is the most extreme Iranian present to date — and the competition is tough. I say from here to the EU: You can’t talk about human rights and at the same time pay homage to a murderer, a hangman, who assassinated hundreds of regime opponents,” the prime minister said.
The ultraconservative Raisi, 60, is set to be inaugurated by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Tuesday and sworn in before parliament two days later.
Raisi is on a blacklist of Iranian officials sanctioned by Washington, due to his complicity in the “brutal crackdown” on protests and “extrajudicial executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.” The cleric, a former student of Khamenei, is seen by many Iran observers as Iran’s most compatible president with the supreme leader since Khamenei took the role in 1989.
Earlier Tuesday, Hebrew media reported that Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will hold a briefing on Wednesday for UN Security Council representatives during which they will present them with intelligence information showing Iran’s responsibility for the attack.
Israel, Britain, and the US were expected later Tuesday to seek a motion in the Security Council condemning Iran for the attack, the Ynet website reported.
All three countries have publicly blamed Iran for the attack last Thursday on the MT Mercer Street, a tanker managed by a UK-based company owned by prominent Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer. A British security guard and a Romanian crew member were killed when drones slammed into the vessel off the coast of Oman. Romania has also held Iran responsible.
Tuesday saw the NATO alliance warn Iran over the attack while the European Union rejected the incident as “unacceptable,” though it also said that the circumstances are not yet clear.
A NATO spokesman “strongly condemned” the assault.
“Freedom of navigation is vital for all NATO Allies, and must be upheld in accordance with international law,” NATO spokesman Dylan White said.
“The United Kingdom, the United States, and Romania have concluded that Iran is highly likely responsible for this incident. Allies remain concerned by Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region, and call on Tehran to respect its international obligations.”
EU foreign affairs spokeswoman Nabila Massrali told reporters: “The exact circumstances of this attack have to be clarified. And we take note of investigations carried out by the United States, the UK, and Israel.
“This is an action that was against a freedom of navigation in this area and of course, unacceptable.”
On Monday US Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowed a “collective response” to Iran.
“We are in very close contact, in coordination, with the United Kingdom, Israel, Romania and other countries. And there will be a collective response,” Blinken told reporters at a press appearance at the State Department.
He repeated that the United States had concluded that Iran was behind the drone attack and called its actions a “direct threat to freedom of navigation and commerce.”
Also on Monday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued his own condemnation.
“I think that Iran should face up to the consequences of what they’ve done,” he told the BBC. “This was clearly an unacceptable and outrageous attack on commercial shipping… it is absolutely vital that Iran and every other country respects the freedom of navigation around the world.”
Later that day Gantz said Israel must act immediately against Tehran over the drone strike.
The Mercer Street is a Japanese-owned tanker flying a Liberian flag with a foreign crew. Its only ties to Israel are that it is managed by London-based Zodiac Maritime, a company owned by Ofer.
Still, Israel believes that is precisely the reason it was hit, and views the attack as one that targeted its interests.
The recent attack marked the first known fatal attack after years of assaults on commercial shipping in the region linked to tensions between Israel and Iran over the tattered nuclear deal.