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Blaming Israel for cargo ship blast, Iran warns it has right to respond

Foreign Ministry spokesperson says geographical location when explosion hit Shahr E Kord and Israeli ‘aggressive behavior’ point to Jerusalem being the culprit

A fire is seen on the Iranian Shahr E Kord cargo ship in the Mediterranean on March 10, 2021. (Screenshot: Twitter)
A fire is seen on the Iranian Shahr E Kord cargo ship in the Mediterranean on March 10, 2021. (Screenshot: Twitter)

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said Monday that Iran has the right to respond to an alleged attack on one of its cargo ships, and pointed at Israel as the likely culprit.

Israel and Iran have accused each other recently of attacking a number of merchant ships, damaging them with explosives. The vessels in each case were only lightly damaged and there were no injuries in the incidents.

Speaking at a weekly briefing Saeed Khatibzadeh was asked about an attack last week in the Mediterranean Sea that damaged an Iranian cargo ship.

He said that the investigation into what happened to the Shahr E Kord transport ship is still ongoing, according to the Tasnim news agency.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh gestures during a press conference in Tehran on February 22, 2021 (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

Khatibzadeh added that “given the geographical location” of the attack and what he termed Israeli aggressive behavior, “the finger of blame first of all points” at Israel.

“Whenever the region moves toward peace, this [Israeli] regime tries to create unrest for a clear reason,” Khatibzadeh said.

“[Israel] finds its survival in war, crisis and chaos. Iran would consider all options when it finds out who has been involved in this operation, and will resort to them to protect its legitimate rights,” he said, according to the Tasnim news agency.

On Saturday an Iranian investigator told local media that Israel is the likely suspect behind the attack on the Iranian ship.

Israeli security officials have reportedly urged calm amid the escalating tensions and during recent meetings on the matter spoke up against responding to Iran over the alleged attack on an Israeli-owned cargo ship last month, the Walla news website reported Sunday.

The officials cited the new administration in Washington’s need for time to formulate policy, the ongoing negotiations between the UN atomic agency and Iran to save the 2015 nuclear pact, and the impact a marine confrontation in the area of the Gulf of Oman could have on Israel’s shipping lines to Asia.

The Israeli-owned cargo ship, Helios Ray, sits docked in port after arriving earlier in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Feb. 28, 2021 (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

The MV Helios Ray car-carrier suffered holes blown in its hull just above the waterline. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led accusations that Iran was behind the attack, though Tehran denied being involved.

Last week The Wall Street Journal reported that Israel has targeted at least 12 ships bound for Syria, most of them transporting Iranian oil, with mines and other weapons.

The attacks started in late 2019 and targeted both Iranian vessels, and other ships with Iranian cargo, the report said, citing “US and regional officials.” Some of the alleged Israeli strikes, which took place in the Red Sea and other areas, targeted Iran-linked weapons shipments, the report said.

The attacks did not sink the tankers but forced at least two of the vessels to return to port in Iran. Israel sought to halt the trade in oil because it believed the profits were financing regional extremists, the report said.

Iran has carried on with its oil trade to Syria in recent years, in violation of both US sanctions on Tehran and international sanctions on Damascus.

Iran, whose leaders repeatedly call for Israel’s destruction, backs the Hezbollah terrorist group, as well as terror groups in the Gaza Strip.

Israel declined to comment to The Wall Street Journal on the report.

Iran has blamed Israel for a recent series of attacks, including a mysterious explosion last summer that destroyed an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at its Natanz nuclear facility and the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top Iranian scientist who founded the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program two decades ago.

Tensions have heated in the Middle East in recent months, as Iran repeatedly violated the terms of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers ahead of possible talks with the Biden administration.

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