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UN Security Council to discuss deadly tanker attack blamed on Iran

Britain expected to raise issue at Friday meeting, over a week after a suspected Iranian drone strike amid ongoing shadow war on the seas

Children ride a swing as the Israeli-linked tanker MT Mercer Street is seen off the port of the Gulf Emirate of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates, on August 3, 2021. (Karim Sahib/AFP)
Children ride a swing as the Israeli-linked tanker MT Mercer Street is seen off the port of the Gulf Emirate of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates, on August 3, 2021. (Karim Sahib/AFP)

The United Nations Security Council will reportedly discuss last week’s deadly attack on an Israeli-linked tanker near Oman amid escalating tensions with Iran, at a closed-door meeting on Friday.

Britain is expected to raise the issue of the July 29 attack on the Liberian-flagged Mercer Street — which left a Romanian and a Briton dead, and was blamed on Iran — at the meeting, diplomats told Reuters on Thursday.

United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Wednesday that Britain had written to the head of the UN Security Council, along with Romania and Liberia, to insist that action be taken against Iran over the attack.

“The Council must respond to Iran’s destabilizing actions and lack of respect for international law,” Raab tweeted.

On Tuesday, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan sent a letter to the Security Council demanding it urgently address the incidents at sea and condemn Iran over the drone attack on the Mercer Street.

The US, UK and Israel have blamed Iran for the drone attack on the ship, managed by a company owned by Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer, as it sailed off Oman. Analysts said the assault bore all the hallmarks of the “shadow war” between Iran and Israel, which has included attacks on shipping vessels in waters around the Gulf.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab arrives in Downing Street in London, on Wednesday, April 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

However, in a letter on Wednesday to the UN Security Council, Iran’s chargé d’affaires in New York described Israel as “the main source of instability and insecurity in the Middle East and beyond for more than seven decades.”

“This regime has a long dark record in attacking commercial navigation and civilian ships,” Zahra Ershadi wrote. “In less than two years, this regime has attacked over 10 commercial vessels carrying oil and humanitarian goods destined to Syria.”

The latest provocation occurred earlier this week, when hijackers stormed an asphalt tanker off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf of Oman, briefly seizing the vessel before departing on Wednesday.

No one claimed responsibility for the incident, although recorded radio communication from the ship shared with The Associated Press revealed one of the crew members saying that armed Iranians had boarded the Asphalt Princess.

Illustrative: Members of the United Nations Security Council, with visiting German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, convene a meeting on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, on Wednesday, February 26, 2020, at UN headquarters. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

In response to a request for comment, the United States Central Command, known as CENTCOM, put the blame squarely on Iran on Thursday.

“We are troubled by the temporary forcible seizure of the M/V Asphalt Princess by Iranian gunmen,” said US Air Force Maj Nicole Ferrara, a CENTCOM spokesman.

“We are looking into the incident, but do not have an understanding of what the Iranians were doing at this time, or why they would impede the transit of this legitimate commercial vessel.”

Iran has denied involvement in the incident, calling all the recent maritime escalations in the region as “completely suspicious.” It has also noted that the US, UK and Israel have not presented evidence linking Iran to the Mercer Street strike.

Illustrative: The oil tanker Mercer Street, which came under attack last week off Oman, is seen moored off Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, on Wednesday, August 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

On Wednesday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told a virtual briefing of UN Security Council diplomats that Israel had identified the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commanders behind the Mercer Street attack.

“Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the IRGC’s Air Force, is behind dozens of terror attacks in the region employing UAVs and missiles,” Gantz said.

“For the first time ever, I will also expose the man who is directly responsible for the launch of suicide UAVs — his name is Saeed Ara Jani and he is the head of the IRGC’s UAV command.”

The maritime incidents come amid heightened tensions between Iran and the West over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers.

Gantz warned on Thursday that Israel is prepared to engage militarily directly with Iran to stop its nuclear program, and was seeking international backing.

“The world needs to deal with Iran, the region needs to deal with Iran, and Israel also needs to do its part in this situation,” he declared in an interview with the Ynet news site.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (C) and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (R) addressing foreign ambassadors at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, on August 4, 2021. (Israel Foreign Ministry)

When asked if he was referring to the world also getting involved in military action against Iran, the defense minister answered in the affirmative.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh called Gantz’s comments “another brazen violation of Int’l law,” on Twitter.

“We state this clearly: ANY foolish act against Iran will be met with a DECISIVE response,” Khatizbadeh said. “Don’t test us.”

Iran has also engaged in its own saber rattling, with military officials warning Israel that it will respond to any aggression.

Chief of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Gen. Hossein Salami speaks at a pro-government rally in Tehran, Iran, on November 25, 2019. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

“Those who speak against us with threatening rhetoric — including the Zionist regime’s premier and its other officials — should beware of the dangerous repercussions of their statements and exercise the necessary caution in their calculations,” IRGC head Hossein Salami said on Wednesday, according to Iran’s Fars news agency. “Our response to enemies’ threats will be more destructive and regrettable.”

The attack on the Mercer Street killed the vessel’s Romanian captain, as well as a British crew member who worked for Ambrey, a maritime security firm.

In a statement on Thursday, Ambrey identified the victim as Adrian Underwood, a former soldier in the British Army, who started at the firm as a maritime security officer in 2020 before becoming a team leader.

“We continue to be in contact with Adrian’s family to offer support at this sad and difficult time,” said John Thompson, Ambrey’s management director.

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