Iran’s Rouhani rejects Israeli involvement in Gulf naval security

Iranian president says Israel should worry about its own defense, calls it the region’s ‘main perpetrator of terrorism, war and slaughter’

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a session of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, June 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Vladimir Voronin)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a session of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, June 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Vladimir Voronin)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday rejected Israeli involvement in US-led naval efforts to boost security in the Persian Gulf after a series of tanker seizures by Iran.

At a weekly cabinet meeting, Rouhani said Gulf states can guarantee security in the region without US assistance and accused Israel of sowing instability in the Middle East.

“Israelis had better take care of the security of where they are if they can. Although, wherever they had a presence, they brought about nothing but insecurity, slaughter and terror,” he was quoted saying by the Mehr news agency.

“The main perpetrator of terrorism, war and slaughter in the region is the occupying regime of Israel,” he added.

He also said American calls for other nations to join its proposed naval mission were “superficial” and “impractical.”

“No doubt, no matter how much of these calls is put into practice, it will do nothing to help the security in the region,” Rouhani said.

Illustrative: Iranian navy personnel celebrate after successfully launching a Ghader missile from the Jask port area on the shores of the Gulf of Oman during a drill near the Strait of Hormuz, Tuesday, January 1, 2013. (AP/Jamejam Online, Azin Haghighi)

His comments came in response to efforts by the Trump administration to set up a US-led naval security mission around the Strait of Hormuz, where Iran’s recent seizures of vessels has raised tensions with the West.

The US wants an international coalition to monitor and potentially escort commercial ships there. Britain said last week it would join the mission; no other US allies have committed themselves so far.

It’s not clear if Israel has been asked to participate.

Last week, the Ynet news site reported Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz had told a closed session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Israel was involved in the US-led efforts.

Katz said Israel was assisting the mission to secure the crucial waterway with intelligence and in other unspecified fields. He stressed the mission was in Israel’s strategic interest of countering Iran and boosting ties with Gulf countries.

On Sunday, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s navy, which since last month has three tankers in the Gulf, warned that “any illegitimate presence by the Zionists in the waters of the Persian Gulf could spark a war.”

Iraq has also rejected Israeli involvement in the Gulf, with its foreign minster tweeting Monday that regional states were capable of securing the strategic waterway themselves and that Israel’s participation in such a mission was unacceptable.

A US Marine observes Iranian fast attack craft from the USS John P. Murtha during a Strait of Hormuz transit, July 18, 2019. (US Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Donald Holbert)

Tehran and Washington have been locked in a battle of nerves since US President Donald Trump withdrew from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran last year and reimposed sanctions.

Tensions have soared in the region, with drones downed and tankers mysteriously attacked in Gulf waters.

The US and its Gulf allies have accused the Islamic Republic of the tanker attacks — allegation that Tehran denies. In response, the US has been seeking to form a coalition whose mission — dubbed Operation Sentinel — it says is to guarantee freedom of navigation in the Gulf.

Besides Britain, which already has warships on protection duty in the Gulf after a UK-flagged tanker was seized by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, other European countries have refrained from joining the planned operation for fear it might harm their efforts to reach a negotiated settlement with Iran.

The ship seizures came after British Royal Marines helped to impound a tanker carrying Iranian oil off the British overseas territory of Gibraltar on July 4, alleging it was destined for EU-sanctioned Syria, an accusation Iran denies.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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