UNITED NATIONS — Tehran has rejected what it said are Israel’s unfounded allegations that Iranian forces attacked an Israeli-owned cargo ship in the Persian Gulf late last month.
The MV Helios Ray suffered damage on February 26 when several holes were blown into its hull above the waterline. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Iran, saying it deliberately targeted the Bahamas-registered vessel; Iran swiftly denied the charge.
Iran’s UN ambassador in a letter circulated Tuesday accused Israel of “playing the victim to distract attention away from all its destabilizing acts and malign practices across the region.”
Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi said in the letter to the UN Security Council that the incident “has all the characteristics of a complicated false flag operation by actors in order to pursue their malign policies and to advance their illegitimate objectives.”
He was responding to a letter to the council from Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan. It accused Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps of attaching an explosive device to the Israeli-owned cargo vessel in international waters near the Gulf of Oman on February 25. The vessel was en route from Saudi Arabia to Singapore.
The explosion caused “severe damage, forcing the ship to return to the port of Dubai to ensure the safety of the crew,” Gilad said in the letter, also circulated Tuesday.
Israel has accused Iran of developing nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies, and of supporting hostile terrorist groups across the region, such as Hamas in Gaza and the Lebanese Hezbollah. Israel has acknowledged carrying out hundreds of airstrikes on targets connected to Iran and its proxies in Syria.
Gilad’s letter cited previous Iranian attacks on civilian ships, including its seizure of a South Korean flagged tanker in Gulf waters in early January and on four commercial vessels in May 2019 in the territorial waters of the United Arab Emirates east of the port of Fujairah.
In the tense summer of 2019, the US military blamed Iran for explosions on two oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most strategic shipping lanes. The US also attributed a series of other suspected attacks to Iran, including with the use of limpet mines — designed to be attached magnetically to a ship’s hull — to cripple the four oil tankers off the nearby Emirati port of Fujairah.
Erdan said the February 25 attack and previous attacks “prove yet again that Iran will use any means to destabilize the region” and he urged the Security Council to condemn Iran’s violations of the UN Charter “and hold the Iranian regime responsible for this attack and for destabilizing the regime.”
Iran’s Ravanchi countered that the “Israeli regime” must be held accountable for all of its “crimes, brutalities and threats… in particular its occupation of Palestine and parts of other countries, as well as its persistent military adventurism in such a volatile region as the Middle East.”
He said Israel must “also be reminded that it will bear all consequences as a result of any possible miscalculation.”
The al-Mayadeen news channel on Sunday published Iranian drone footage that showed the ship after the explosions.
In a short clip aired by the station, an airborne camera focuses on the holes in the side of the ship.
An Iranian official, who provided the footage, told al-Mayadeen “elements from inside the ship itself caused these holes” as a deception.
The official, who was not named in the report, said that Iran had “no reason to carry out an operation against an Israeli cargo ship, especially in the weeks before the elections,” referring to Israel’s approaching March 23 vote.
He accused Netanyahu of creating a security situation due to the “fragile electoral situation” and in order to continue implementing the policies of the previous US administration under Donald Trump.
The February 25 blast on the cargo ship came as Iran has increasingly breached its 2015 nuclear accord with world powers in an attempt to pressure US President Joe Biden to grant the sanctions relief it received under the deal that former president Donald Trump abandoned nearly three years ago. In the current standoff, Iran and the US both insist the other make the first move to return to the nuclear deal.
Iran also 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.