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Israel in diplomatic campaign for a forceful world response to attack on ship

Lapid speaks to US, UK, Romanian counterparts as Jerusalem said to share intel tying Iran to deadly drone strike; Israel making case that Tehran is hurting global interests

This Jan. 2, 2016 file photo shows the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street off Cape Town, South Africa. (Johan Victor via AP)
This Jan. 2, 2016 file photo shows the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street off Cape Town, South Africa. (Johan Victor via AP)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid spoke with his American counterpart Anthony Blinken on Saturday to discuss a potential international response to Thursday’s deadly drone attack against an Israeli-operated ship, allegedly carried out by Iran.

The two spoke of the “joint activities against Iranian terrorism and the formulation of a substantive and effective international response,” Lapid tweeted.

The conversation came as Channel 12 news reported that Israel has provided the United States and United Kingdom with intelligence showing Iran was responsible for the attack on the MT Mercer Street oil tanker, in an effort to ramp up international pressure on Tehran.

Israel is seeking to make the case to the international community that Iran is not only harming Jerusalem’s interests, but has become a menace to global shipping at large with the attack that killed a British and a Romanian national, the network reported.

Lapid also spoke with his Romanian counterpart Bogdan Aurescu and has spoken to British counterpart Dominic Raab.

Aurescu said in a statement that he’d thanked Lapid “for his sincere condolences for the Romanian citizen killed in the violent incident involving Mercer Street ship.” He expressed hope that an investigation “will swiftly establish the origin and nature of the tragic event.”

Other than Israel, no other country has so far blamed Iran for the attack on the ship. According to Walla news, Jerusalem has been disappointed by the so-far vague statements put out by the international community and is seeking more forceful condemnations, specifically naming Iran. The report said the US and the UK are still studying intel to determine who was behind the strike.

Israel is also seeking an international investigation into the attack and for the United Nations Security Council to convene on the matter, unnamed officials told the site.

Lapid said on Friday that “Iran is not just an Israeli problem, but an exporter of terrorism, destruction, and instability that are hurting us all.”

The Mercer Street is a Japanese-owned tanker flying a Liberian flag and with a foreign crew. Its only ties to Israel are that the ship is managed by London-based Zodiac Maritime, a company owned by an Israeli billionaire.

The vessel was struck on Thursday in the northern Indian Ocean, killing the two crew members in what American and Israeli officials said was a drone-style attack.

A senior Israeli government source said on condition of anonymity Friday evening that “Iran is sowing violence and destruction in every corner of the region. They were so eager to attack an Israeli target that they’ve embroiled themselves and incriminated themselves in the killing of foreign citizens.”

The source said that with a new hardline Iranian president set to be sworn in, “the masks are coming off and no one can pretend they don’t know the character of the Iranian regime.”

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks during a briefing at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, on July 25, 2021. (Lazar Berman/ Times of Israel)

“Iran isn’t just Israel’s problem, it is a global problem, and its behavior endangers free global shipping and trade. Our campaign against them will continue,” the official said.

As the talks with the US and UK continued on Saturday, the Israeli defense establishment reportedly met to discuss a possible military response.

In the meeting over the weekend, involving Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, various plans to retaliate against Iran and Iranian targets in the region were prepared, according to Channel 12.

“We will choose how and when to respond,” an official told the network.

The Israeli-operated MERCER STREET was attacked near Oman, on July 29, 2021 (MarineTraffic.com screenshot)

An unnamed official with knowledge of the investigation told CNN the crew had reported hearing drone noises in the area, which followed explosions and eruptions in the water.

An Israeli official cited in Hebrew-language television reports said that the Romanian fatality was the captain and the British man was a security guard. The CNN report said the two remained on the bridge to pilot the vessel amid the attack.

The source added to CNN that the crew also reported an unsuccessful drone attack earlier in the day and said the aircraft fell into the water.

On Friday, the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations said it was investigating a separate unexplained incident in the same area, but it did not elaborate.

The Mercer Street, an oil products tanker, was traveling from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates with no cargo aboard when it was struck, Zodiac Maritime said.

In this photo provided by the US Navy, sailors assigned to an explosive ordnance unit board an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter on the flight deck of aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan to head to an oil tanker that was attacked off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea, on July 30, 2021. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Quinton A. Lee/US Navy, via AP)

A statement from the United States military’s Central Command said on Friday that its naval forces answered a distress call after the attack. “US navy personnel are on the Mercer Street, assisting the vessel’s crew,” it said.

“US navy explosives experts are aboard to ensure there is no additional danger to the crew, and are prepared to support an investigation into the attack,” it added.

By Friday afternoon, Zodiac Maritime said the ship was “sailing under the control of her crew” to a safe location under the protection of a US naval escort.

The US military also said early indications “clearly point” to a drone strike on the Mercer Street.

Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam state TV channel, citing “informed regional sources”, said the attack was a “response to a recent Israeli attack” targeting an airport in central Syria, where Iran is backing the regime.

Satellite imagery taken July 31, 2021 shows a large area of burnt land and what appears to be the impacts on several hardened aircraft shelters at Dabaa Airbase, Al-Qusayr, Syria. (Planet Labs Inc. via Aurora Intel)

In recent months, Israel and Iran have accused each other of attacking a number of merchant ships, damaging them with explosives. The vessels in each case were only lightly damaged and there were no injuries in the incidents.

On February 26, a blast struck the Israeli-owned MV Helios Ray, a Bahamian-flagged cargo ship, in the Gulf of Oman. Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran of attacking the ship. Iran swiftly denied the charge, but experts say the attack bears hallmarks of previous attacks ascribed to Tehran.

The Israeli-owned cargo ship, MV Helios Ray, sits docked in port after arriving earlier in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on February 28, 2021. (Kamran Jebreili/AP)

Another Israeli-owned vessel reportedly came under missile fire in the Gulf of Oman in late March, possibly by Iranian forces.

The Wall Street Journal reported in March that Israel has targeted at least 12 ships bound for Syria, most of them transporting Iranian oil, with mines and other weapons.

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