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IDF chief: Blast on Israeli-owned ship was a ‘reminder’ from Iran

Aviv Kohavi says explosion shows Tehran not only a nuclear threat, but one that ‘spreads and carries out terror’

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks at a ceremony on February 28, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks at a ceremony on February 28, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi on Sunday indicated that Iran was behind a blast on an Israeli-owned cargo ship in the Gulf of Oman last week.

At a ceremony in which he awarded a Medal of Appreciation to the Military Intelligence Directorate’s Unit 8200, Kohavi said Israel was dealing with a range of security threats in various military theaters.

“Just over the weekend we got a reminder in one of these theaters of one of the greatest threats in the region, Iran, and we got a reminder that Iran not only is a nuclear threat, but that it spreads and carries out terror and operations against civilian targets,” Kohavi said.

He added: “This is the place to reiterate that the IDF acts and will act against the threats that endanger [Israel], near and far.”

His comments came as an ultraconservative Iranian newspaper, Kayhan, said the “resistance axis” of Tehran and its regional allies may have been behind the explosion that hit an Israeli-owned “spy” vessel four days ago.

The Israeli-owned Bahamian-flagged MV Helios Ray cargo ship docked in Dubai’s Mina Rashid (Port Rashid) cruise terminal, February 28, 2021. (Giuseppe Cacace/AFP)

The MV Helios Ray, a vehicle carrier, was traveling from the Saudi port of Dammam to Singapore when the blast occurred on Thursday, according to the London-based Dryad Global maritime security group.

Citing unnamed “military experts,” Kayhan wrote in a front-page report that “the targeted ship in the Gulf of Oman is a military ship belonging to the Israeli army.”

It was “gathering information about the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman” when it was targeted, the newspaper said.

“This spy ship, although it was sailing secretly, may have fallen into the ambush of one of the branches of the resistance axis,” it added, without offering further details.

The term “resistance axis” usually refers to the Islamic Republic and its allied forces in the region.

Also Sunday, the Helios Ray came to Dubai’s port for repair. An Israeli security delegation was reportedly in Dubai to inspect the vessel.

The crew was unharmed in the blast, but the vessel sustained two holes on its port side and two on its starboard side just above the waterline, according to American defense officials.

It remains unclear what caused the blast, but the incident comes amid rising tension between the US and Iran over its unraveling 2015 nuclear deal. Iran has sought to pressure US President Joe Biden’s administration to bring back the sanctions relief it received under the accord with world powers, which former president Donald Trump abandoned.

Israel’s Channel 13 News reported Saturday that security officials believe the ship was attacked by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, who fired two missiles at the ship.

A photo showing some of the damage caused to an Israeli-owned ship by an explosion, in the Gulf of Oman on February 26, 2021. (Photo via Aurora Intel/Twitter)

The blast on the ship, a Bahamian-flagged but Israeli-owned roll-on, roll-off vehicle cargo vessel, recalled a string of attacks on foreign oil tankers in 2019 that the US Navy blamed on Iran. Tehran denied any role in those suspected assaults, which happened near the Strait of Hormuz, a key oil chokepoint.

Israeli ambassador to the US and UN Gilad Erdan told Army Radio on Sunday that “it was no secret that the Iranians are trying to harm Israeli targets” and alleged the explosion on the ship bore the hallmarks of other Iranian attacks.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Saturday that the proximity between the location of the incident and the Islamic Republic raised concerns that it was responsible for the attack, but added that a probe had not yet been completed.

“We need to continue investigating,” he stressed. “The Iranians are looking to harm Israelis and Israeli infrastructure. The proximity to Iran leads to the assessment that there is a likelihood that this is an Iranian initiative. We are committed to continuing to check.”

The Helios Ray had discharged cars at various ports in the Persian Gulf before making its way out of the Middle East toward Singapore. The blast hit as the ship was sailing from the Saudi port Dammam out of the Gulf of Oman, forcing it to turn to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, for inspection.

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