Iranian investigator claims Israel behind attack on cargo ship in Mediterranean

Accusation comes shortly after US officials tell Wall Street Journal that Israel has hit many ships taking Iran oil and arms to Syria

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)

Israel is the likely suspect behind an attack this week in the Mediterranean that damaged an Iranian cargo ship, an Iranian investigator told local media Saturday, according to Reuters.

An unnamed member of the investigation team told the semi-official Nournews that “considering the geographical location and the way the ship was targeted, one of the strong possibilities is that this terrorist operation was carried out by the Zionist regime,” the report said.

The ship was slightly damaged by an explosive object but no one on board was hurt, Ali Ghiasi, a spokesman for state-run shipping company IRISL told semi-official Nournews on Friday.

The accusation comes a day after 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 alleged attack occurred on Wednesday. “Such terrorist acts amount to naval piracy,” he added, identifying the ship as the Shahr E Kord, and said it was traveling from Iran to Europe.

Ghiasi said the blast caused a small fire that was extinguished by the crew.

“Legal proceedings will be taken to identify the perpetrators through related international bodies,” Ghiasi added.

The company official did not disclose the ship’s current location and cargo, but said “it will continue its route after assessing and repairing the damage.”

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.

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

The attacks mark a new front in the shadow war between Israel and Iran.

Israel has said Iran was behind a blast on an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman last month; Iran denies the charge.

Some sources said the explosion on the MV Helios Ray, a tanker carrying cars, was caused by limpet mines. The damage forced the ship to port for repairs but did not disable it or injure any crew.

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.

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

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

The Israeli military has launched hundreds of airstrikes in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011 against moves by Iran to establish a permanent military presence in the country and efforts to transport advanced, game-changing weapons to terrorist groups in the region, principally Hezbollah.

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.

Israel’s environment minister blamed Iran for an oil spill off the Israeli coast last month that saw hundreds of tons of tar pollute beaches along most of Israel’s Mediterranean coastline, but Israeli security officials said they could not confirm the allegation. Much of the tar has been removed, and many beaches have now reopened.

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