The Helios Ray, a freighter that had offloaded vehicles at several ports in the gulf on its way to Singapore, was struck by several blasts of unknown origin Friday as it steamed along the Iranian coast near the entrance to the Persian Gulf.
The explosions, which the ship’s owner speculated could have been caused by missiles or mines, left holes above the waterline on both sides of its hull. None of the crew was injured, and the ship was able to travel to Dubai for repairs Sunday under its own power.
Israel intelligence immediately suspected Iran, according to statements Saturday by Benny Gantz, Israel’s minister of defense, who said the location of the attack made it “a likelihood” that Iran was involved. The narrow Strait of Hormuz, separating Iran from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, is often the focus of maritime conflict. The United States and other governments held Iran responsible for several attacks on oil tankers in the area in 2019.
Neither Gantz nor Netanyahu cited specific evidence implicating Iran.
Tehran denied involvement in last week’s incident.
“We strongly reject this accusation,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a televised news conference Monday. “The security of the Persian Gulf is extremely important for Iran.”
Netanyahu’s interview, and his pledge to respond, was taped Sunday night. Hours later, Syrian media blamed Israel for several reported airstrikes on military targets associated with Iran south of Damascus.
Israel Defense Forces declined to comment on the reported strikes, which follow the pattern of attacks against Iranian proxy sites in Syria over the past several months. Israeli media characterized Monday’s strikes as retaliation for the attack on the freighter.
The exchanges come at a time of heightened tensions between Iran, Israel and the new Biden administration, which is seeking to restart negotiations on Iran’s nuclear energy program while also containing its aggression through regional proxies in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Gaza.
Iranian officials have pledged revenge for the killings of senior nuclear scientists widely attributed to Israel, including the assassination of its top researcher outside Tehran in November.
Last week, in response to a rocket attack in Iraq that killed a contractor working with the American military, U.S. forces struck facilities in eastern Syrian used by Iranian-backed militia groups. That attack, the first military action authorized by President Biden, killed more than 20 fighters, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Israel contends that Iran’s ambitions for regional dominance represent the biggest threat to its security. Netanyahu, in Monday’s interview, said his government remained committed to stopping Iran from developing the capacity to make a nuclear weapon — something which Tehran has denied it’s doing.