Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused Tehran of being behind the attack on an Israeli cargo ship as it left the Saudi port of Dammam in the early hours of Thursday morning. An explosion on the cargo ship's waterline forced it to disembark at the port of Dubai for inspection.
The Israeli-owned, Bahamas-flagged MV Helios Ray was sailing through the Gulf of Oman towards Singapore when it was attacked. The explosion caused two holes in the port side and two on the starboard side just above the waterline, according to US defence officials. However, there were no injuries.
The ship is near Dubai's floating hotel, the Queen Elizabeth 2, where it arrived on Sunday to undergo a battery of repairs by Israeli officials deployed to the area. The Emirati Coast Guard and Dubai Police are escorting and protecting the vessel, according to local sources.
Israeli news channel 13 reported on Saturday that Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps reportedly fired two missiles at the cargo ship. However, Netanyahu's security cabinet minister and former navy admiral, Yoav Galant, claimed that images of the ship showed that each of the holes was the result of "a mine placed on the outside, apparently in a night-time navy commando operation". The perpetrators reportedly acknowledged Israeli ownership of the ship from open source sources, according to Galant's own account.
"It is an Iranian action, it is clear," Netanyahu said in an interview with the public television channel Kan, before stressing that the Tehran regime is Israel's greatest enemy and adding that his country "is hitting Iran in the whole region". In the same interview, Netanyahu pointed out that "the Iranians will not have nuclear weapons, with or without an agreement" in a message he has already conveyed to President Biden himself.
Bibi's words come after Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz pointed to Iran as possibly responsible for what happened. "We believe it was the Iranians, but it still needs to be examined," he said. Gantz also reiterated that Iran was targeting both infrastructure and Israeli citizens in retaliation for the shooting death of Mohsen Fajrizadeh last November.
The incident has renewed maritime security concerns in the region and escalated tensions. The area has seen numerous clashes, especially in the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world's most important maritime routes due to its geographic and economic importance. One-fifth of the world's oil exports travel through this route, which includes the Gulf of Oman.
The daily Khayan, a hardliner of the Tehran regime, has reported that the owner of the Israeli cargo ship and one of Israel's wealthiest businessmen, Abraham Ungar, has a close relationship with Mossad chief Yossi Cohen. The libel has insinuated that the vessel was on an espionage mission.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh denied that the regime was behind the attack. Khatibzadeh said the Israeli prime minister suffers from "an obsession with Iran" and described his accusations as "scaremongering".
Khatibzadeh also accused Israel of taking "suspicious actions in the region against Iran" in recent months to undermine the 2015 nuclear deal, without elaborating, and vowed that Iran would respond. "The Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman are Iran's security zones, and Iran does not allow Israel to threaten there," the spokesman said.
Syrian state media reported early Sunday morning a series of alleged Israeli air strikes near Damascus. Most of the missiles were reportedly intercepted by air defence systems, but Israeli media said the alleged offensive was aimed at Iranian targets in response to the attack on the boat.
Israel has struck hundreds of Iranian targets in Syria in recent years, and Netanyahu has repeatedly stated that Israel will not accept a permanent Iranian military presence in the neighbouring country. Both Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah organisation have provided military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during the Syrian civil war, one of the reasons for a disagreement that continues to simmer.