Saturday, July 31

‘Iran could be behind blast on Israeli-owned ship’


JERUSALEM: Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said on Saturday he believes Iran is behind an explosion earlier this week on an Israeli-owned vessel in the Gulf of Oman.

The MV Helios Ray, a vehicle carrier, was travelling from the Saudi port of Dammam to Singapore when the blast occurred on Thursday, according to the Dryad Global maritime security group.

“The location of the vessel, relatively close to Iran at the time, raises the belief that Iran was responsible, but it must still be verified,” Gantz told Israeli state television Kan.

“This is an initial assessment that takes into account the proximity (with Iran) and the context” in which the blast occurred, he added.

“This is what I believe.”

A file photo shows Gantz speaking during a visit to the Israeli Druze village of Julis in northern Israel. — AFP photo

Rami Ungar, an Israeli businessman who owns the Helios Ray, told Kan on Friday that the explosion did not cause any casualties among the crew or damage to the engine.

It did cause “two holes about a meter and a half in diameter” in damage, he said, without elaborating.

“But it is not yet clear to us whether it was caused by missile fire or mines attached to the ship,” he added.

“We have no idea if this is an incident that is part of the tensions between Iran and the United States and if it has to do with the fact that the owner of the ship is Israeli.”

Dryad Global suggested Iran could be behind the blast, noting the incident comes amid heightened tensions between Israel and the Islamic republic.

“Tensions between Israel and Iran remain fraught, especially in light of increased signs of rapprochement between Iran and the Biden administration,” Dryad said.

US President Joe Biden, who took office five weeks ago, has opened the door to resuming negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear programme.

Last week, his administration offered talks with Iran led by European allies as it seeks to salvage a 2015 nuclear deal, left on the brink of collapse after Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump withdrew from it.

Israel’s government, led by right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is vehemently opposed to the 2015 nuclear agreement negotiated between Tehran and world powers. — AFP