U.S., U.K. Join Israel in Accusing Iran, Vowing Response for Tanker Attack Off Oman

Blinken said the attack was carried out using drones, 'a lethal capability [Iran] is increasingly employing throughout the region'

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The Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street off Cape Town, South Africa, in 2016.
The Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street off Cape Town, South Africa, in 2016.Credit: JOHAN VICTOR/ REUTERS

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken joined Israel and the United Kingdom on Sunday in accusing Iran of last week's attack on a tanker off the coast of Oman that killed two crew members.

Blinken's statement comes as Israeli officials say they have relayed intelligence linking Tehran to the strike, allegedly carried out using drones, to their counterparts in the United States, as well as in the United Kingdom and Romania, whose citizens were killed in 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," he said in a statement, adding "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 added.

The Mercer Street is operated by London-based Zodiac Maritime, part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group.

The U.S. Navy said the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the guided missile destroyer USS Mitscher escorted the Mercer Street as it headed to a safe port. On Sunday, satellite-tracking information from MarineTraffic.com showed the tanker stopped off the coast of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates.

Also on Sunday, British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said in a statement the attack was "highly likely" a deliberate Iranian act, condemning "the unlawful and callous attack," which killed a British national.

According to the British statement, the Mercer Street was attacked using "one or more" drones. "We believe this attack was deliberate, targeted, and a clear violation of international law by Iran."

"Iran must end such attacks, and vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law," Raab added. 

'Concerted response'

In his statement, Blinken said the U.S. is working with its partners to consider next steps and consulting with governments inside the region and beyond on an appropriate response, "which will be forthcoming."

Raab also said "The U.K. is working with our international partners on a concerted response to this unacceptable attack."

The chief of Israel's armed forces spoke with his British counterpart on Sunday, the Israeli military said in a statement issued shortly after London accused Iran of carrying out the attack.

Lieutenant-General Aviv Kohavi and Britain's Staff General Nick Carter "discussed recent events in the region and common challenges faced by both countries," said an Israeli military statement, which did not elaborate nor specifically cite the MV Mercer Street incident.

Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he spoke with Blinken and other foreign ministers over the past days, adding he was "happy that both the United States and the United Kingdom are condemning these acts of terrorism."

Iranian denial

While no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, Iran and its militia allies have used so-called “suicide” drones in attacks previously, which crash into targets and detonate their explosive payloads. However, Israel, the U.K. and the U.S. have yet to show physical evidence from the strike or offer intelligence information on why they blame Tehran.

The drone attack blasted a hole through the top of the oil tanker’s bridge, where the captain and crew command the vessel, a U.S. official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as an investigation into the attack was still ongoing. 

Iran has denied any involvement in the incident. "The Zionist regime (Israel) has created insecurity terror and violence ... these accusations about Iran's involvement are condemned by Tehran," Saeed Khatibzadeh told a weekly news conference. "Such accusations are meant by Israel to divert attention from facts and are baseless," he said.

Earlier on Sunday, Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett blamed Iran for the attack, saying at the start of a government meeting: "I just heard that Iran, in a cowardly manner, is trying to dodge its responsibility for the incident. So I declare unequivocally: Iran is the one that carried out the attack on the ship."

Bennett added that intelligence supports his claims, and that he expects the international community "to clarify to the Iranian regime that they have made a big mistake."

"We, in any case, have our own way to relay the message to Iran," he said. 

In recent maritime confrontations between Iran and Israel, this marks the first time that an attack on a vessel linked to Israel has resulted in casualties. 

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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