An Israeli-owned ship reportedly came under missile fire on Tuesday near the United Arab Emirates, in the third attack of its kind in months.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the strike, but officials in Jerusalem believe Iran is responsible, according to Hebrew media reports.
The Lebanese Al Mayadeen news outlet, which is affiliated with the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group, said the ship was targeted near Fujairah on the coast of the Gulf of Oman.
The Iranian-backed al-Alam TV said the Israeli vessel was the cargo ship Hyperion Ray, which sails under the Bahamas flag but is Israeli-owned.
Channel 12 said the missile strike caused a small amount of damage to the ship, but no injuries. The ship was en route to the UAE from Kuwait, according to the network.
A spokesperson for the Hyperion Ray, however, 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 blamed 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.
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.
Details remained scarce about what happened at Natanz. The event 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.
The extent of the damage at Natanz also remains unclear, though 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.”
In remarks aired late Monday by state television, the former head of the country’s civilian nuclear arm called the attack’s design “very beautiful.” It appeared to target both the power grid at Natanz and the facility’s emergency backup power, Fereydoun Abbasi said.
Abbasi said a similar attack targeted Iran’s underground Fordo facility in 2012 with two explosions: One 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) away at a power station and the other at Fordo’s emergency battery system.
“We had predicted that, and we were using a separate power grid,” Abbasi said. “They hit but nothing happened for our machines.”
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.