The U.S. blamed Iran for a deadly drone attack on an Israel-linked tanker, warning of an “appropriate response” to the incident last week in a major waterway for global oil shipments.
Middle East foes Iran and Israel have traded multiple accusations of shipping attacks in recent months. But Thursday’s strike off the coast of Oman, which Iran denied carrying out, was the first to kill crew members. The two fatalities have raised tensions in the Persian Gulf at a critical juncture with Iran preparing to inaugurate a new president, and talks with world powers over its 2015 nuclear deal stalled.
“There is no justification for this attack, which follows a pattern of attacks and other belligerent behavior,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Sunday. “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.”
He gave no further details of what the response might entail. A spokesperson for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which is based in the region, declined to comment. The U.S. and its allies created a maritime force in 2019 in response to similar attacks to protect sea lanes in the Middle East.
Blinken said he was “confident” Iran used “one-way explosive” drones in Thursday’s attack on the oil-products tanker, which is now moored off the coast of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates. U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said “one or more” of the unmanned drones may have been involved in the hit on the Mercer Street, which killed a Romanian and a Briton.
Major nations including the U.S. are seeking to revive the 2015 pact that limited Tehran’s nuclear activities in return for an easing of U.S. sanctions.
Former President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the accord in 2018 and reimposed sanctions, setting off a chain of events that raised the threat of war, including shipping attacks and escalating nuclear activity.
Israel opposes lifting sanctions or a revival of the deal, which would allow Iran to reenter global oil markets.
A sixth round of talks in Vienna broke up last month and Western powers have voiced frustration over what they describe as Iran’s stalling on a resumption, for which no date has been set. The transfer of power to new president Ebrahim Raisi this week in Iran has complicated efforts to revive the diplomacy.
Blinken’s condemnation came after Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Iran was “unequivocally” responsible for the strike on Mercer Street. The U.K. issued a similar condemnation. None of them offered direct evidence.
“We expect the international community to clarify to the Iranian regime that it made a terrible mistake,” Bennett said. “We have our ways of getting the message to Iran.”
An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman rejected Israel’s accusations in a press briefing in Tehran on Sunday, saying it was not the first time such allegations had been leveled against the Islamic Republic.
But two days earlier Iran’s state-run Al-Alam agency said the attack was “in response to” a recent Israeli attack on an airport in Syria’s Qusayr region, without specifying who was behind it.
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