Israel's Bennett Says Tel Aviv Keeps Option Open to 'Act Alone' Against Iran After Tanker Attack
12:02 GMT 03.08.2021 (Updated: 13:06 GMT 03.08.2021)
© REUTERS / RULA ROUHANAMercer Street, an Israeli-managed oil tanker that was attacked is seen off Fujairah Port in United Arab Emirates, August 3, 2021. REUTERS/Rula Rouhana
© REUTERS / RULA ROUHANA
Tehran has flatly denied having anything to do with the attack on the Mercer Street, an oil tanker managed by Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer. The vessel was struck in the Gulf of Oman on 29 July, killing its Romanian captain and a British national. Western powers have threatened to join Israel in 'punishing' Iran.
Israel does not rule out acting alone in its 'response' to Iran over the Mercer Street tanker attack, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has indicated.
"Sitting peacefully in Tehran and igniting the entire Middle East - these times are over. We are working for the world to join us, but at the same time we also know how to act alone," Bennett warned.
"Iran knows the price that we'll exact when someone threatens our security," he added.
The prime minister made the comments Tuesday during a visit to the Northern Command.
Bennett's remarks come amid growing consolidation among Israel's Western allies in expressing support for Tel Aviv and condemning Tehran over its suspected role in the tanker attack.
NATO issued a statement Tuesday saying that it "strongly" condemns the strike on the Mercer Street, and blasted Iran, which the alliance said was deemed "highly likely responsible" for the incident by the US, the UK and Romania. "Allies remain concerned by Iran's destabilising actions in the region, and call on Tehran to respect its international obligations," the bloc said.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who has led the charge among Western powers in expressing support to Israel in the wake of the incident, reiterated Tuesday that London believes the Mercer Street attack "was a deliberate, targeted attack by Iran," and "welcomed" NATO's support.
The UK is reportedly considering a "range of options" to "respond" to the tanker attack, including cyberattacks against Iranian interests.
Also Tuesday, Israeli Army Radio reported that Defence Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid would be meeting with ambassadors of United Nations Security Council member states on Wednesday to show them Israeli intelligence on the Mercer Street attack, supposedly to demonstrate Iranian responsibility.
A day earlier, Canada, another NATO member, similarly expressed its condemnation of the tanker attack, and said that it "stands with the international community in upholding international security and holding Iran accountable for its reckless actions".
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters Monday that Washington was working with Israel, the UK, Romania and "other allies" to formulate a "collective response" over the attack.
Iran Threatens Response
Iran blasted Israeli and Western claims of its responsibility for the Mercer Street attack, accusing Western officials of "contradictory, false and provocative accusations," and warning that Tehran would respond "immediately and strongly" to any provocations. The country's foreign ministry went on to accuse Tel Aviv of influencing the US position on the matter via its powerful 'Zionist lobby'.
On Monday, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson told Sputnik that there was no indication of Iranian involvement in the Mercer Street attack, and said that no evidence has been presented to the Russian side to that effect from any party.
The Mercer Street arrived off the coast of the United Arab Emirates emirate of Fujairah on Tuesday, with an AFP correspondent attributing poor visibility and high humidity for difficulties in seeing just how much damage has been done to the vessel. The empty tanker was struck about 300 km southeast of Muscat, Oman while on route from Tanzania to the UAE.
Fate of Nuclear Talks Hangs in the Balance
The Mercer Street attack comes at a convenient time for Tel Aviv, which has worked extensively to try to lobby its US allies not to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Iran nuclear deal amid months of indirect talks in Vienna. Israel has repeatedly threatened to carry out military strikes against Iran and its alleged military nuclear programme if the nuclear deal is reactivated. The Islamic Republic has long denied any intention to pursue nuclear weapons, and pointed to the hypocrisy of Israel's allegations amid Tel Aviv's own suspected status as the Middle East's sole nuclear weapons state.
The Mercer Street claims are just the latest chapter in a long-running clandestine war between Iran and Israel against one another's commercial shipping. The two sides have accused one another of targeting multiple ships in recent months. In March, US media reported that Israel had secretly attacked at least a dozen Iranian tankers attempting to deliver oil to energy-starved Syria over the past two year period. Israeli media speculated that these attacks may have caused the equivalent of up to "billions" of dollars in damage.