US, UK join Israel in charging Iran with attacking oil tanker

“Iran must end such attacks, and vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law.”
This Jan. 2, 2016 photo shows the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street off Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: AP / Johan Victor)
This Jan. 2, 2016 photo shows the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street off Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: AP / Johan Victor)

WASHINGTON, DC (Kurdistan 24) – On Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement blaming Iran for an attack, late on Thursday, off the coast of Oman, on the oil tanker Mercer Street.

The attack—apparently, two armed drone strikes—killed two crewmen: the captain of the ship, a Romanian, and a guard, a British citizen, who worked for the British security firm, Ambrey.

The Mercer Street flies a Liberian flag. It is Japanese-owned, but managed by a British company, Zodiac Maritime, which, in turn, is owned by an Israeli billionaire, Eyal Ofer.

The ship was unloaded at the time of the strike, traveling from Tanzania to the United Arab Emirates.

Soon after the strike, Israel blamed Iran, but, at least publicly, offered no evidence to support its accusation.

Iran denied responsibility for the assault, denouncing the Israeli charge as “baseless.”

On Sunday, however, Israel’s new Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, followed by Blinken and UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, all charged Iran with responsibility for the attack.

It would appear that Israel has clear evidence against Iran, and it was shared with the US and UK. As late as Saturday evening, less than 24 hours before his statement on Sunday attributing the attack to Iran, Blinken had issued a much more neutral statement, after a phone conversation with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.

On Saturday evening, Blinken said that he had discussed the assault with Lapid, and they had “agreed to work with the United Kingdom, Romania, and other international partners to investigate the facts, provide support, and consider the appropriate next steps.”

That changed markedly on Sunday. As that morning’s cabinet meeting began, the Israeli Prime Minister affirmed, “I determine, with absolute certainty, that Iran carried out the attack against the ship.

“The intelligence evidence for this exists,” Bennet continued, “and we expect the international community will make it clear to the Iranian regime that they have made a serious mistake.”

He then warned, “In any case, we know how to send a message to Iran in our own way. Iran’s thuggishness endangers not only Israel, but also harms global interests, namely freedom of navigation and international trade.”

Britain’s Foreign Secretary subsequently issued his own statement. “UK assessments have concluded that it is highly likely that Iran attacked the MV Mercer Street in international waters off Oman on 29 July using one or more unmanned aerial vehicles,” Raab said.

“Iran must end such attacks, and vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law,” he continued. “The UK is working with our international partners on a concerted response to this unacceptable attack.”

Blinken issued a similar statement, “We join our partners and allies in our strong condemnation of the attack against the Mercer Street.”

“Upon review of the available information, we are confident that Iran conducted this attack,” using “one-way explosive UAV’s, a lethal capability it is increasingly employing throughout the region,” Blinken continued. ”

The Kurdistan Region has seen its share of explosive drones, launched by pro-Iranian militias in Iraq. On July 6, Erbil Airport—which is a major facility for forces from the US and other members of the anti-ISIS coalition—was targeted by an armed drone.

Read More: Erbil International Airport targeted in drone attack: Kurdistan CT forces

On July 23, a military base northeast of Erbil, used by the highly secretive JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command), was also targeted by a drone, marking the second time since May 11 that it has been assaulted.

An Erbil-based translator for US Special Operations Forces, Miriam Thompson, an Arab-American, was recently convicted in a US court of spying for Hizbollah. It is entirely possible that she provided the coordinates for the highly sensitive site in the course of her espionage.

Read More: Militias’ targeting of covert US sites in Kurdistan Region explained, with sentencing of spy for Lebanese Hizbollah

In the statement that he issued on Sunday, Blinken stated, “We are working with our partners to consider our next steps and consulting with governments inside the region and beyond on an appropriate response, which will be forthcoming.” 

The news website, Axios, in a story from Israel—which would certainly be among the governments consulted by the US on this issue—reported that the next step would be to bring the issue before the UN Security Council for action there.