By Tom Kingsbury | Head of Politics
The UK, US and Israel have all accused Iran of involvement in an attack on an oil tanker off the coast of Oman that resulted in the deaths of two crew members.
Whilst the vessel was sailing in the northern Indian Ocean, on its way to the United Arab Emirates, it was hit by a drone fitted with explosives, killing a British and a Romanian citizen working as security guards.
The tanker, known as the MV Mercer Street, is operated by Zodiac Maritime, a company based in London and owned by Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer. After it made a mayday signal, two US Navy warships escorted the ship to port.
In recent months, tensions have been rising between Israel and Iran, following attacks on Israeli- and Iranian-owned vessels within the area. The two countries have pointed the finger at each other for the attacks, despite both denying any responsibility. This attack, though, is an escalation from the previous ones, where casualties were rare.
A key component of the tensions between the two countries is Iran’s nuclear weapon capabilities. Ongoing talks are addressing the failed 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, which put limits on Iran’s nuclear weapon development in return for the lifting of sanctions on Iran.
A number of countries suspect Iran of developing nuclear weapons, despite its denial of breaking any international conventions. Iran has accused Israel of assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists and sabotaging its nuclear programme.
The death of a UK citizen, though, has meant the UK is involved in the issue more than it otherwise would have been. An inquiry has been opened up by British police into the death of the British security guard, who has not been identified as of yet.
The UK also summoned the Iranian ambassador regarding the attack. In return, Iran summoned the British Charge d’Affaires (the highest ranking British diplomat in Iran), denying any involvement and accusing the UK, US and Israel of “baseless propaganda”.
What has the response been?
Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid blamed “Iranian terrorism” for the attack, and the Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, said: “Iran already knows the price we exact when someone threatens our security.”
Iran warned that any actions against it for the attack on the tanker “will be met with a severe and decisive answer”. Saeed Khatibzadeh said regarding Israel: “the Zionist regime has created insecurity, terror and violence”.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab stated that “Iran must end such attacks, and vessels must be allowed to navigate freely”. He called the attack a “deliberate, targeted, and clear violation of international law”.
Lisa Nandy, Shadow Foreign Secretary, said: “This reckless Iranian attack on a merchant vessel in international waters is a flagrant breach of international law.” She criticised the “breakdown of a clear strategy to deal with Iran “ by the UK Government, and called for “coordinated international efforts” in response to the attack.
The US’ Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, said the government was confident Iran had conducted the attack, and that an “appropriate response” would follow.
Beyond words, the international response is yet to be seen, though the UK and US will be cognisant that an overly-aggressive response could jeopardise talks over Iranian nuclear limitations. Israel, however, is less supportive of the 2015 deal, and may push for a firmer response.
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