Netanyahu warns that Israel will stop any Iranian attempt to close Red Sea
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Netanyahu warns that Israel will stop any Iranian attempt to close Red Sea

After Yemeni rebel attack on Saudi tankers, PM tells graduates of naval commanders' course a 'determined international coalition' would act against Tehran

From left: Israel Navy Commander Eli Sharvit, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot attend a naval commanders' graduation ceremony, August 1, 2018 (IDF spokesperson)
From left: Israel Navy Commander Eli Sharvit, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot attend a naval commanders' graduation ceremony, August 1, 2018 (IDF spokesperson)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Iran on Wednesday that Israel, together with an “international coalition,” would not allow the Islamic Republic to close a key regional waterway.

Speaking to graduates of the Israel Navy’s elite captains’ course at its naval training base in Haifa, Netanyahu said, “At the beginning of the week we witnessed a serious clash with Iran’s proxies who tried to obstruct international movement in the straits at the entrance to the Red Sea.”

He added: “If Iran tries to block the Bab Al-Mandab Straits, I’m convinced that it will find itself facing a determined international coalition to prevent this.

“This coalition would include Israel,” he promised the 36 newly-minted naval commanders, “in all its branches.”

Netanyahu was referring to the attack last week by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebels on two Saudi oil tankers in the straits, an attack that led to the temporary suspension of Saudi oil shipment through the area and a spike in global oil prices.

The Bab al-Mandab Strait, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, is the southern entrance to the Red Sea. As such, it is a bottleneck for maritime traffic to Israel’s southern port of Eilat.

Netanyahu emphasized the importance of sea power in his comments Wednesday.

“The sea provides us with many opportunities. Above all it increases the small size of the State of Israel and allows us to deploy our vessels above and below the waves across a vast area. This gives the State of Israel considerable power,” he said.

File: A Sa’ar 4.5-class missile boat leaves the Haifa port ahead of the Israeli Navy’s flotilla in honor of Israel’s 70th Independence Day on April 19, 2018. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

Shortly after Netanyahu’s speech, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman told the graduates that the IDF, which faces security threats on the country’s northern and southern borders simultaneously, is capable of fighting a war on multiple fronts.

“Daring seafarers, our men of iron, ready at any moment for any mission,” he said in a tweet following the ceremony.

“You stand ready in the Red Sea, and in the north and in the south. You are ready for a campaign on all fronts at once, ready to deliver a powerful blow to the enemy.”

The Saudi tankers, operated by the Saudi shipping group Bahri, each with a two-million-barrel capacity, emerged mostly unscathed from the attack.

“One of the ships sustained minimal damage. No injuries nor oil spill have been reported,” the Saudi state oil giant Aramco said.

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen’s civil war has repeatedly warned that the Iran-backed Houthi rebels are threatening vessels in the Red Sea — a key shipping route for world trade — through their control of the strategic Hodeida port.

AFP contributed to this report.

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