Netanyahu claims Iran behind blast on Israeli-owned ship

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused Iran of being behind last week’s blast on an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman days after Israeli officials, including the defence minister, pointed fingers of blame at Tehran.

Netanyahu made the accusation in an interview that aired Monday with Israeli public broadcaster Kan – but offered no evidence for his claim.

The MV Helios Ray, a vehicle-carrier ship, was hit overnight on Friday by a blast above the waterline that a US official said ripped holes in both sides of its hull. The vessel docked at Dubai’s port for repairs on Sunday. It remains unclear what caused the blast.

Defence Minister Benny Gantz said on Saturday that an initial assessment found Iran was responsible for the explosion, while the Israeli ambassador to the US and United Nations appeared to blame Tehran for the blast, which has revived security concerns in the region.

Israeli defence officials have flown to Dubai to investigate the incident, Haaretz newspaper reported.

The hawkish Israeli prime minister, who is seeking re-election in the country’s fourth election within two years, sidestepped a question on whether Israel will retaliate.

When asked if Israel would retaliate, Netanyahu, a strident critic of Tehran’s nuclear programme, repeated previous statements about his determination to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

“Iran is the greatest enemy of Israel, I am determined to halt it. We are hitting it in the entire region,” the Israeli prime minister said.

Kan said the interview was recorded on Sunday night, before Syria accused Israel of carrying out missile attacks around southern Damascus.

Israeli media reports said the alleged air raids were on Iranian targets in response to the ship attack.

The Israeli military declined to comment.

Israel has struck hundreds of Iranian targets in Syria in recent years, and Netanyahu has repeatedly said Israel will not accept a permanent Iranian military presence in its neighbour.

Iran rejects allegation

Iran’s foreign ministry “strongly rejected” Netanyahu’s claim and said his recent remarks stem from his “obsessive” behaviour towards the country.

“The source of these allegations itself lacks credibility the most,” said Saeed Khatibzadeh, the foreign ministry’s spokesman, said in a press conference in Tehran on Monday.

He said Iran considers recent Israeli actions in the region “suspicious” and reserves the right to respond decisively.

Khatibzadeh also reiterated Iran’s stance that it never has and never will seek nuclear weapons.

Previous incidents

Earlier Iran’s hardline Kayhan daily alleged the Helios Ray was “possibly” on an “espionage” mission in the region, without offering any evidence to support the claim.

Iran has also blamed Israel for a recent series of attacks, including a mysterious explosion last summer that destroyed an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at its Natanz nuclear facility and the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top Iranian scientist who founded the country’s military nuclear programme 20 years ago.

Tehran has repeatedly promised to avenge Fakhrizadeh’s killing.

Iranian threats of retaliation have raised alarms in Israel following the country’s normalisation deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

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