Israel won’t retaliate over suspected Iranian attack on ship – report
Jerusalem seeking to deescalate situation in Persian Gulf after Natanz blast, series of maritime assaults, official tells New York Times
Israel does not plan to respond to an attack on an Israeli-owned ship off the coast of the United Arab Emirates and is seeking to tamp down tensions with Iran, a report said Tuesday.
In the third attack of its kind in months, the MV Hyperion Ray — which sails under the Bahamas flag — reportedly came under missile fire on Tuesday near the emirate of Fujairah on the coast of the Gulf of Oman. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the strike, but officials in Jerusalem believe Iran is responsible, according to Hebrew media reports.
The New York Times cited an Israeli security official saying no retaliatory attack was planned on an Iranian vessel since the Jewish state wants to deescalate the situation in the Persian Gulf.
The report also cited a US official saying Israel has in recent days asked Washington for help in protecting the Hyperion Ray.
Hebrew media said the missile strike caused no injuries and very minor damage. The ship was en route to the UAE from Kuwait, according to Channel 12 news.
A spokesperson for the Hyperion Ray said there was no damage and the ship continued on its route.
The emirate of Fujairah is on the UAE’s eastern coast, on the Gulf of Oman, opposite the Persian Gulf and near the Strait of Hormuz.
The reported strike came as Iran threatened to avenge an attack on its Natanz nuclear site that it blames on Israel.
Tehran and Jerusalem are engaged in a maritime shadow war, with both sides blaming the other for explosions on vessels, marking a new front in the conflict that was previously carried out on land, by air, and with alleged espionage and cyberattacks.
The MV Saviz, an Iranian cargo ship said to serve as a floating base for Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard forces off the coast of Yemen, was struck by an explosion last Tuesday, likely from a limpet mine.
In recent months, at least two Israeli-owned cargo ships have been damaged in alleged Iranian attacks, one in the Gulf of Oman and the other as it was sailing to India.
Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility was hit by a suspected attack on Sunday. Israel is widely believed to have carried out the assault that damaged centrifuges, though it has not claimed it.
A senior Iranian official confirmed that the blast destroyed or damaged thousands of centrifuges used to enrich uranium. Alireza Zakani, the hard-line head of the Iranian parliament’s research center, referred to “several thousand centrifuges damaged and destroyed” in a state TV interview. However, no other official has offered that figure and no images of the aftermath have been released.
The remarks appear to confirm Israeli reports indicating the damage was widespread and Iran will have significant difficulty restoring its enrichment to previous levels in the coming months.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tuesday that if Iran determines the Jewish state was behind the strike on Natanz, “then Israel will get its response and will see what a stupid thing it has done.”
The incident threatened to derail ongoing negotiations between Iran and world powers aimed at rescuing its tattered 2015 nuclear deal. The Biden administration opened indirect talks with Iran over the deal last week.
Following the Natanz attack, Iran on Tuesday said it will begin enriching uranium to 60 percent purity, higher than the program ever has before. Iranian nuclear negotiator Abbas Araghchi was quoted by the state-run IRNA news agency as saying that Iran would increase its enrichment from its current rate of 20% in response to the weekend attack. That would put Iran a short technical step away from weapons-grade levels.
The broadcaster also quoted Araghchi as saying Iran would install another 1,000 centrifuges at Natanz, without elaborating. Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful.
An Israeli television report, however, on Tuesday said Iran will have difficulty enriching to those levels as Natanz remains out of commission.
The Natanz incident was initially described only as a blackout in the electrical grid feeding above-ground workshops and underground enrichment halls, but later Iranian officials began referring to it as an attack.
On Monday, an Iranian official acknowledged that the blast took out the plant’s main electrical power system and its backup. “From a technical standpoint, the enemy’s plan was rather beautiful,” Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, the head of the Iranian parliament’s energy committee, told Iranian state television on Monday.
“They thought about this and used their experts and planned the explosion so both the central power and the emergency power cable would be damaged.”
Reports said a bomb, detonated remotely, caused the outage and damaged the plant.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry said it damaged some of Iran’s first-generation IR-1 centrifuges, the workhorse of its nuclear program. A former Iranian Revolutionary Guard chief said Tuesday that the assault set off a fire while a civilian nuclear program spokesman mentioned a “possible minor explosion.”
An American official told the New York Times that Israel called the strike on Natanz a retaliation for the several attacks on Israeli-owned shipping vessels in recent weeks.
Earlier Tuesday, a Channel 12 report said Israel’s security establishment was bracing for a possible Iranian revenge attack and had raised security levels in embassies around the world.