US, UK and Israel blame Iran for ship attack; Tehran denies
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United States and the United Kingdom joined Israel on Sunday in alleging Iran carried out a fatal drone strike on an oil tanker off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea, putting further pressure on Tehran as it denied being involved in the assault.
Calling it a “unlawful and callous attack,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said his country and its allies planned a coordinated response over the strike Thursday night on the oil tanker Mercer Street. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken soon followed, saying there was “no justification for this attack, which follows a pattern of attacks and other belligerent behavior.”
The strike on the Mercer Street marked the first-known fatal attack after years of assaults on commercial shipping in the region linked to tensions with Iran over its tattered nuclear deal.
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 responding U.S. Navy have yet to show physical evidence from the strike or offer intelligence information on why they blame Tehran.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett went further than Blinken and Raab in his remarks Sunday at a Cabinet meeting, making a point to stare directly into the camera and slowly warn: “We know, at any rate, know how to convey the message to Iran in our own way.”
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 still was ongoing. The blast killed two crew members from the United Kingdom and Romania.
The Navy said the American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the guided missile destroyer USS Mitscher had 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.
In his statement, Raab said it was “highly likely” Iran attacked the tanker with one or more drones.
“We believe this attack was deliberate, targeted and a clear violation of international law by Iran,” he said. “Iran must end such attacks, and vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law.”
Blinken similarly described the U.S. as “confident” Iran carried out the attack, using multiple drones.
“These actions threaten freedom of navigation through this crucial waterway, international shipping and commerce, and the lives of those on the vessels involved,” he said in a statement.