TV: Israeli, UK army chiefs in unprecedented coordination

US, UK blame Iran for deadly strike on ship with Israel ties, weigh response

Blinken: ‘We are confident that Iran conducted this attack’; Britain’s FM Dominic Raab condemns ‘unlawful and callous attack’ that killed a Briton and a Romanian

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)

Washington and London on Sunday for the first time openly blamed Iran for Thursday’s drone attack on an oil tanker with tenuous ties to Israel that left two dead, one of them a Briton.

The countries’ top diplomats said they were considering a response to the assault.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the country is “confident” Iran was behind the drone attack near Oman, a day after he spoke with Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid to discuss a potential international response to the incident.

“Upon review of the available information, we are confident that Iran conducted this attack, which killed two innocent people, using one-way explosive UAVs, a lethal capability it is increasingly employing throughout the region,” Blinken said in a statement.

“There is no justification for this attack, which follows a pattern of attacks and other belligerent behavior. These actions threaten freedom of navigation through this crucial waterway, international shipping and commerce, and the lives of those on the vessels involved,” Blinken said.

“We are working with our partners to consider our next steps and consulting with governments inside the region and beyond on an appropriate response, which will be forthcoming. We once again offer our condolences to the families of the victims,” the secretary added.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken looks on as he and U.S. President Joe Biden meet Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for the U.S.-Russia summit at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. (Denis Balibouse/Pool Photo via AP)

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said it was “highly likely” that Iran was behind the attack.

“We believe this attack was deliberate, targeted, and a clear violation of international law by Iran. UK assessments have concluded that it is highly likely that Iran attacked the MV Mercer Street in international waters off Oman on 29 July using one or more Unmanned Aerial Vehicles,” Raab said in a statement.

“The UK condemns the unlawful and callous attack committed on a merchant vessel off the coast of Oman, which killed a British and a Romanian national. Our thoughts are with the friends and family of those killed in the incident,” the secretary said.

“Iran must end such attacks, and vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law. The UK is working with our international partners on a concerted response to this unacceptable attack,” he added.

Meanwhile, Israel Defense Forces chief Aviv Kohavi spoke with his British counterpart Sir Nick Carter on Sunday.

“The two discussed recent events in the region and common challenges faced by both countries,” the Israeli military said in a statement.

Without providing a source, Channel 12 news reported that the two agreed to share intelligence efforts as well as coordinate a response toward Iran, calling such cooperation on the Islamic Republic unprecedented.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks at a ceremony on February 28, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Thursday’s attack marked the first-known fatal attack after years of assaults on commercial shipping in the region linked to tensions between Israel and Iran over its tattered nuclear deal.

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 the Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer.

Still, Israel believes that is precisely the reason it was hit, and views the attack as one that targeted its interests.

According to Walla news, Jerusalem had been disappointed by the initial vague statements put out by the international community and had sought more forceful condemnations that would explicitly blame Iran.

But on Sunday, Lapid praised the new condemnations from the US and UK.

“I am pleased that both the United States and the United Kingdom have condemned these terrorist acts,” Lapid said in a statement.

“The threat posed by the terrorist regime in Iran will only increase as the ‘Hangman of Tehran’ [Ebrahim] Raisi becomes President,” Lapid said, referring to the incoming Iranian president, accused of taking part in the mass killings of prisoners towards the end of the 1980-1988 war between Iran and Iraq.

“Israel will continue to hold conversations with our allies around the world and work together to formulate the necessary steps needed against ongoing Iranian terror,” the Foreign Minister added.

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

Raab’s and Blinken’s comments came after Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett explicitly blamed Iran earlier Sunday for the attack.

The Islamic Republic has denied responsibility for the deadly assault.

“I now hear that Iran, in a cowardly way, is trying to evade responsibility for the incident. They’re denying it,” Bennett said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. “I say this definitively: Iran is behind the attack on the boat.”

Bennett said “the intelligence materials proving [Iran’s involvement] exist and we expect the international community to make it clear to Iran that they made a grave mistake. We, in any case, know how to convey this message to Iran in our own ways.”

Iran on Sunday denied any involvement and rejected Israel’s “blame games.”

The comment by Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh marked the first official comments on the attack from Tehran, which will see a new president inaugurated Thursday.

Khatibzadeh described the allegation that Iran carried out the attack as “baseless.”

“Such blame games are nothing new,” Khatibzadeh said. “Those who are responsible for this [attack] are the ones who made it possible for the Israeli regime to set its foot in this region.”

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh gestures during a press conference in Tehran, on February 22, 2021. (Atta Kenare / AFP)

On Friday, state-owned Iranian news network Al-Alam, citing “well-informed sources,” said the attack was in response to a reported Israeli strike in Syria that it said killed “two resistance men” last week.

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.”

In the wake of the attack, Defense Minister Benny Gantz called an urgent discussion with Kohavi and other defense officials on Friday. Israel was said to be considering taking action in response to the attack.

Analysts said the attack bore all the hallmarks of tit-for-tat exchanges in the shadow war between Israel and Iran, in which vessels linked to each nation have been targeted in waters around the Gulf.

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

On Friday, Lapid said he had ordered Israeli diplomats to push for UN 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 said on Twitter.

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