Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu fingered Iran as the party responsible for firing a rocket at an Israeli-owned cargo ship in the Gulf of Oman last week, and promised to retaliate.
“It was in fact Iran, clearly,” Netanyahu said Monday during an interview with Israel’s national broadcaster, adding that his “policy is well known” when asked if a military response by Israel was imminent. Tehran later issued a statement denying the prime minister’s claims, saying Netanyahu was “obsessed” with Iran, and was using the issue for domestic political purposes.
Israel will hold general elections in just over three weeks.
On Thursday, a cargo ship headed from Saudi Arabia to Singapore, flying a Bahaman flag but owned by Israeli shipping magnate Rami Unger, was hit with what is believed to be two missiles fired by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards or its proxies.
The ship, the MV Helios Ray, sustained severe damage and was forced to reroute to a nearby Emirati port. There were no casualties in the mysterious attack.
Netanyahu’s comments were the latest in a string of statements made by prominent Israeli officials regarding Thursday’s incident.
“The Iranians are looking to hit Israelis and Israeli infrastructure. The proximity to Iran leads us … to believe that this was initiated by them.”
On Sunday, military Chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi said that “Iran served us a reminder that it isn’t only a nuclear threat but also spreads terror and carries out terror operations against civilian targets.”
Defense Minister Benny Gantz offered his own assessment a day earlier, Jerusalem’s first official response to the apparent missile strike. “The Iranians are looking to hit Israelis and Israeli infrastructure,” Gantz warned. “The proximity to Iran leads us … to believe that this was initiated by them.”
As if on cue, Syria’s state news agency late Sunday evening reported that Israeli fighter jets had struck a military compound just south of Damascus. The government claimed its air defense batteries managed to thwart the attack.
According to Syrian opposition forces, the air raid targeted Iranian troops and facilities, and the bombing is believed to be a retaliation of sorts for last week’s events in the Gulf of Oman.
A spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces did not confirm or deny the claims of an Israeli strike, only telling The Media Line that “the military does not comment on foreign media reports regarding its activities.”
Over the past decade, Israel has conducted numerous raids on Syrian territory, even claiming responsibility for a handful of them, as it considers Iranian entrenchments efforts near its eastern border to be an existential national security threat.
Sunday night’s air strikes in Damascus “aren’t necessarily tied to the attack” on the Israeli-owned ship, says Yossi Kuperwasser, a retired IDF brigadier general who headed the research department in the Israeli military’s Intelligence Directorate and served as director-general of Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry.
“They may be, but since they’re very similar to the past strikes in recent months, it just as well could be ‘routine,’” he said.
Kuperwasser believes Israel will figure out how to answer Iran’s aggression, but not in a way that would ignite the region.
Both countries are looking to see how Iran’s nuclear pre-negotiations with the United States play out and, in the meantime, are trying to gain leverage and show they mean business, but not much beyond that, he says.
Kochavi, meanwhile, delivered a stern warning to Tehran in his Sunday remarks, saying Israel considered “all theaters in the region to be active” and would act wherever it was needed to maintain the nation’s safety.