Israel names Iranian drone commander allegedly behind lethal ship attack
Ministers Gantz and Lapid tell envoys from countries on the UN Security Council that IRGC’s Saeed Ara Jani is responsible for strike on Mercer Street
Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter
Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid named on Wednesday the Iranian commanders they said were behind last week’s attack on an oil tanker off the coast of Oman.
“Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the IRGC’s Air Force, is behind dozens of terror attacks in the region employing UAVs and missiles,” Gantz told envoys from countries on the United Nations Security Council during a briefing at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. “For the first time ever, I will also expose the man who is directly responsible for the launch of suicide UAVs — his name is Saeed Ara Jani and he is the head of the IRGC’s UAV command.”
“The UAV command conducted the attack on Mercer Street,” he said. Saeed Ara Jani plans and provides the training and equipment to conduct terror attacks in the region.”
Gantz and Lapid’s briefing came a day after Iranian-backed forces also reportedly took control of a tanker in the Gulf of Oman in an incident British authorities described as “a potential hijack.”
The same day, at least six ships off the coast of the United Arab Emirates broadcast warnings that they had lost control of their steering under unclear circumstances.
The Wednesday briefing was part of Israel’s efforts to marshal international efforts to counter Iranian moves across the region, the Foreign Ministry said.
Lapid and Gantz emphasized to their guests that Israel will act on its own to protect itself if it must, but that Iranian attacks should be treated as aggression toward the international community as well.
Referring to last week’s UAV attack on the Mercer Street, in which two crewmen were killed, Lapid stressed, “This is not a covert operation against a military facility. This is an attack on the world’s trade routes, this is an attack on freedom of movement, this is an international crime.”
“What is the international community going to do about it?” he asked. “Is there still such a thing as international law? And does the world have the ability and willpower to enforce the law?”
“If the answer is ‘yes,’” he said, “the world should act now.”
Israel, the United States and the United Kingdom have vowed a “collective response” to the Mercer Street attack, without elaborating.
The maritime incidents come amid heightened tensions between Iran and the West over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers and as commercial shipping in the region has found itself caught in the crosshairs.
Apparently responding to Tuesday’s incident, Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency quoted foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh as calling the recent maritime attacks in the region “completely suspicious.” He denied that Iran was involved.
“Iran’s naval forces are ready for help and rescue in the region,” Khatibzadeh said.
The United States stopped short of assigning blame for the latest episode but State Department spokesman Ned Price said there has been “a very disturbing pattern of belligerence from Iran.”
“When it comes to this specific incident, it’s too early for us to offer a judgment just yet,” Price told reporters.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States was in close touch with Britain over the “deeply concerning” incident.
Agencies contributed to this report.