Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Iran on Monday for a blast aboard an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman last week but sidestepped a question on whether Israel would retaliate, The Jerusalem Post reports.
The MV Helios Ray, a vehicle-carrier ship, was hit overnight by a blast above the water line that a US official said ripped holes in both sides of its hull. An Israeli official said limpet mines were used.
“This was indeed an operation by Iran. That is clear,” Netanyahu told Kan radio.
Kan said the interview was recorded on Sunday night, before Syria accused Israel of carrying out missile strikes around southern Damascus. Israel did not confirm that, but has previously said it was launching frequent military actions against Iranian deployment or arms handovers within Syria.
Yoav Galant, a minister in Netanyahu’s security cabinet and a former navy admiral, said pictures of the Helios Ray showed each hole resulted from “a mine affixed to the exterior, apparently in a nighttime navy commando operation.”
The perpetrators would have known about the ship’s Israeli ownership from open-source material, and the incident took place close to Iranian-controlled coastline, Galant told Ynet TV – adding that a formal investigation had confirmed his observations.
Defence Minister Benny Gantz said on Saturday that an initial assessment found Iran was responsible for the explosion, while the Israeli ambassador to the US and United Nations appeared to blame Tehran for the blast, which has revived security concerns in the region. Israeli defence officials have flown to Dubai to investigate the incident, Haaretz newspaper reported.
The hawkish Israeli prime minister, who is seeking re-election in the country’s fourth election within two years, sidestepped a question on whether Israel will retaliate. When asked if Israel would retaliate, Netanyahu, a strident critic of Tehran’s nuclear programme, repeated previous statements about his determination to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
“Iran is the greatest enemy of Israel, I am determined to halt it. We are hitting it in the entire region,” the Israeli prime minister said.
Meanwhile, Iran’s foreign ministry on Monday “strongly” rejected accusations by Netanyahu that Tehran was behind the attack on the Israeli-owned ship.
“We strongly deny this accusation,” spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said at a press conference, adding that “the source of this accusation itself shows how invalid (the claim) is.”
He said Iran considers recent Israeli actions in the region “suspicious” and reserves the right to respond decisively. Khatibzadeh also reiterated Iran’s stance that it never has and never will seek nuclear weapons.
Earlier Iran’s hardline Kayhan daily alleged the Helios Ray was “possibly” on an “espionage” mission in the region, without offering any evidence to support the claim. Kayhan, Iran’s leading ultraconservative daily, claimed the vessel was “a military ship belonging to the Israeli army” and was “gathering information” about the Arabian Gulf and the Sea of Oman when it was targeted.
According to unnamed “military experts,” the newspaper said: “This spy ship, although it was sailing secretly, may have fallen into the ambush of one of the branches of the resistance axis,” a phrase used by the Tehran regime to describe Iran and its allies.
Israel’s “attacks and crimes in the region, which have been going on publicly for some time, seem to have finally made it a legitimate target,” Kayhan said.