US, Israel, UK vow to respond to Iran for their drone attack on Israeli tanker

Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday blamed Iran for a fatal attack on an Israel-linked ship last week. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Arsalan Shahla and Gwen Ackerman

Bloomberg News

The U.S., Israel and the U.K. all vowed to respond to a deadly drone attack on a tanker last week in a major waterway for global oil shipments that they blamed on Iran.

Middle East foes Iran and Israel have traded multiple accusations of shipping attacks in recent months. But Thursday’s strike off the coast of Oman, which Tehran denied carrying out, was the first to kill crew members — a Romanian and a Briton.

The two fatalities have raised tensions in the Persian Gulf at a critical juncture with Iran preparing to inaugurate a new president, and talks with world powers over its 2015 nuclear deal stalled.

“I promise you that Israel will not sit silently by after a strike against ships or citizens and will respond once it finds the where, the when and the how,” Ram Ben Barak, the head of the Israeli parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, told Army Radio on Monday.

The U.K. said in a statement that it had summoned Iran’s ambassador to the Foreign Office in London. It’s also sending a team to investigate the attack on the Mercer Street oil-products tanker, now moored off the United Arab Emirates, its deputy envoy to Israel told Israeli broadcaster Kan.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Sky News that Iran should “face up to the consequences” of its actions. He called the episode an “unacceptable and outrageous attack on commercial shipping.”

In turn, Iran said it had called the British charge d’affaires in Tehran to its Foreign Ministry to protest the accusations against it, state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

“There is no justification for this attack, which follows a pattern of attacks and other belligerent behavior,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Sunday. “We are working with our partners to consider our next steps and consulting with governments inside the region and beyond on an appropriate response, which will be forthcoming.”

He gave no further details of what the response might entail. A spokesperson for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which is based in the region, declined to comment. The U.S. and its allies created a maritime force in 2019 in response to similar attacks to protect sea lanes in the Middle East.

Blinken said he was “confident” Iran used “one-way explosive” drones in Thursday’s attack. U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said “one or more” of the unmanned drones may have been involved in the hit.

Romania “retains its right to act accordingly, together with its international partners, in order to have an adequate response,” the country’s Foreign Ministry said in emailed response to Bloomberg questions, saying it had summoned the Iranian envoy.

Israel message

Major nations including the U.S. are seeking to revive the 2015 pact that limited Tehran’s nuclear activities in return for an easing of U.S. sanctions.

Former President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the accord in 2018 and reimposed sanctions, setting off a chain of events which raised the threat of war, including shipping attacks and escalating nuclear activity.

Israel opposes lifting sanctions or a revival of the deal, which would allow Iran to reenter global oil markets.

A sixth round of talks in Vienna broke up last month, and Western powers have voiced frustration over what they describe as Iran’s stalling on a resumption, for which no date has been set. The transfer of power to new president Ebrahim Raisi this week in Iran has complicated efforts to revive the diplomacy.

Blinken’s condemnation came after Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Iran was “unequivocally” responsible for the strike on the Mercer Street. The U.K. issued a similar condemnation. None of them offered direct evidence.

“We expect the international community to clarify to the Iranian regime that it made a terrible mistake,” Bennett said. “We have our ways of getting the message to Iran.”

An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman rejected Israel’s accusations in a press briefing in Tehran on Sunday, saying it was not the first time such allegations had been leveled against the Islamic Republic.

But two days earlier Iran’s state-run Al-Alam agency said the attack was “in response to” a recent Israeli attack on an airport in Syria’s Qusayr region, without specifying who was behind it.

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