The Israeli defense establishment on Tuesday night was having a hard time assessing the significance of the latest unusual incident in the Persian Gulf, off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. Four days after the Iranian drone attack in the same area on a partly Israeli-owned ship, in which two European crew members were killed, five ships reported suffering a “loss of command” that prevented them from continuing their voyages.
According to a report in the Iranian media, one of the ships hit a naval mine. The British television network Sky later quoted a security source in London as saying that “eight or nine gunmen” had boarded one of the ships, an oil tanker called Asphalt Princess sailing under the Panamanian flag. According to Reuters, the gunmen are linked to Iranian security forces. This claim has no official confirmation.
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The incident seems a bit puzzling, both because of its character and the timing, which is inconvenient for Iran – and not just because it is being condemned for the previous incident. Tuesday began the ceremonies connected to the inauguration of the new president, Ebrahim Raisi, who is considered an extremist hawk.
Israel has presented intelligence to the United States, Britain and other countries about the previous incident in which the ship Mercer Street, belonging to a company owned by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer, was hit. In the attack, the ship’s captain, a Romanian citizen, and a security guard, a British citizen, were killed.
Following the incident and upon receipt of the information transmitted by Israel, the United States and Britain strongly condemned Iran. Israel hopes the two countries will continue to exert diplomatic pressure on Tehran and may even initiate a discussion on condemning Iran in the UN Security Council.
On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz will hold a joint briefing on the incident for the local ambassadors of the Security Council member states. Although Israeli officials initially made threats against Iran in response to the attack, it appears that any such plans are being delayed for now, in an effort to exhaust all diplomatic avenues.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, during a tour of the military Northern Command on Tuesday, said Israel was working “to enlist the world, but at the same time we also know how to act alone. Immediately after the Iranian attack on the ship (on Friday) we shared our intelligence with our friends in the United States, the U.K. and elsewhere. While nobody has any doubt who is behind the incident, we provided hard evidence just to be sure.”
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He added, “Iran already knows the price that we exact when someone threatens our security. The Iranians need to understand that it is impossible to sit peacefully in Tehran and from there ignite the entire Middle East. That is over.” He also referred to the increase in the defense budget decided on last week, saying it was meant to improve the Israel Defense Forces’ capabilities against Iran.
Bennett was critical of the decision by the European Union to send a representative to Raisi’s inauguration ceremonies. “You cannot speak of human rights and at the same time give honor to a murderer, a hangman, who assassinated hundreds of regime opponents,” he said.