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Lapid calls for UN action against Iran after deadly attack on ship

FM instructs diplomats to push for a response at United Nations, brands Tehran an ‘exporter of terrorism, destruction, and instability that are hurting us all’

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

Israel is pressing for international action against Iran over a deadly attack on a ship managed by an Israeli billionaire, branding Tehran an “exporter of terrorism” after the drone strike.

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

There has been no claim of responsibility for the strike, but maritime industry analysts Dryad Global said “this latest attack has the hallmarks of the ongoing Israel/Iran ‘shadow war.'”

On Friday, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he has ordered the nation’s diplomats to push for United Nations action against “Iranian terrorism.”

“I’ve instructed the embassies in Washington, London, and the UN to work with their interlocutors in government and the relevant delegations in the UN headquarters in New York,” Lapid tweeted.

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

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

Lapid said he had also spoken to his British counterpart Dominic Raab, stressing “the need to respond severely to the attack on the ship in which a British citizen was killed.”

Zodiac Maritime, the tanker’s London-based operator owned by Israeli tycoon Eyal Ofer, said a Romanian national also died in the attack.

An unnamed senior Israeli official cited by Hebrew-language television channels said on Friday that the Romanian fatality was apparently the captain, while the British man was a security guard.

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.

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.

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)

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 said early indications “clearly point” to a drone strike on the Mercer Street, a Japanese-owned tanker flying a Liberian flag.

Several Iranian drones slammed into the ship’s living quarters underneath the vessel’s command center, unnamed Israeli officials told the New York Times on Saturday.

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.

Israeli retired Brigadier General Shlomo Brom said the attack appeared to copy elements of a reported Israeli exploding drone strike on a centrifuge manufacturing site in Iran in June.

Israel, Brom told AFP, “started developing drones and is among the first [countries] to develop the concept of a kamikaze.

“The Iranians are imitating us and adopting the same techniques,” said Brom, now a senior research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies. Iran’s strike marked “a certain escalation” but aimed at avoiding a full-scale war,” he said.

“They are not interested in a wider escalation, just as we are not interested in a wider escalation,” Brom added.

In June, Iran said it had foiled a sabotage attack on an atomic energy agency building near the city of Karaj west of Tehran. But aerial photographs obtained by private Israeli intelligence firm The Intel Lab revealed damage to the site.

The strike on the tanker comes as European powers meet with Iran in an effort to shore up a 2015 agreement to curtail the Islamic republic’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions.

The accord was strained when in 2018 former US President Donald Trump withdrew the US unilaterally and reimposed sanctions.

Negotiations in Vienna, where the US is indirectly taking part, have stalled ahead of next week’s inauguration of newly elected ultra-conservative Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi.

Ebrahim Raisi, who went on to win Iran’s presidential election, waves after casting his vote at a polling station in Tehran, Iran, on June 18, 2021. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

Dryad Global said the attack was the fifth against a ship connected to Israel since February. Two ships tied to Iran were attacked in that period, the firm said.

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.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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