Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Monday warned that Israel must act immediately against Tehran, after a ship managed by an Israeli-owned company was struck by a drone, apparently sent by Iran, last week.
Gantz described Thursday’s deadly attack on the Mercer Street oil tanker as a major escalation by Iran.
“Iran’s aggression in the region generally and on the maritime front, in particular, is intensifying,” Gantz said during a Knesset plenum session. “This is the exact reason that we must act right now against Iran, which not only strives for a nuclear military [program] but also is leading to a dangerous arms race and the crumbling of stability in the Middle East.”
There are “hundreds of Iranian UAVs in Iran, Yemen, Iraq and other countries,” Gantz warned. “In the past year, there have been no less than five Iranian attacks on international ships, some using UAVs manufactured by the Iranian military industry.”
Two people were killed on board the Mercer Street oil tanker — a British and a Romanian national. Thursday’s drone attack was blamed on Iran by Israel, the US, the UK and Romania.
“Iran, under the ‘hangman’ [Ebrahim] Raisi, who will take office this week, will be more dangerous to the world than it has been so far, more destructive to the region than it has been so far, and will strive to become an existential threat to Israel,” Gantz said, referring to the incoming Iranian president, accused of taking part in the mass killings of prisoners toward the end of the 1980-1988 war between Iran and Iraq.
תמונות ראשונות שמתפרסמות הערב מספינת המרסר סטריט שנפגעה בסופש סמוך לעומאן. ניתן לראות את הנזק שעשה בגשר הפיקוד של הספינה המלט המתאבד האיראני מסוג שאהד שהרג את הקפטן הרומני והמאבטח הבריטי. כרגע ישראל במתקפה דיפלומטית עם ארהב ובריטניה שקובעות הערב שמדובר בתקיפה איראנית. pic.twitter.com/bGilqZPZKU
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“We will act to remove any such threat,” the defense minister warned.
“Israel possesses a variety of tools and options to protect its citizens, and we will hold accountable anyone who seeks to harm us, in the time, place and methods that serve us and our security,” he added.
The Mercer Street is a Japanese-owned tanker flying a Liberian flag and with a foreign crew. Its only ties to Israel are that the ship is managed by London-based Zodiac Maritime, a company owned by the Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer.
Still, Israel believes that is precisely the reason it was hit, and views the attack as one that targeted its interests.
“This is not just an Israeli issue, the whole world sees the results of Iran’s aggression,” Gantz said.
“And any agreement with Iran must also address the removal of its threat to the region, and its harm to innocent people and the world economy,” he added, referring to the attempts to restore the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, also known as JCPOA.
The deal saw Iran accept curbs on its nuclear capabilities in return for an easing of sanctions.
But former US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord three years later and ramped up sanctions again, prompting Tehran to pull back from most of its nuclear commitments.
Trump’s successor Joe Biden has signaled his readiness to return to the deal and has engaged in indirect negotiations with Iran alongside formal talks with the agreement’s remaining parties — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.