mercer street

The Mercer Street, a Japanese-owned Liberian-flagged tanker managed by Israeli-owned Zodiac Maritime that was attacked off Oman coast as seen in Cape Town, South Africa, December 31, 2015 in this picture obtained from ship tracker website, Picture taken December 31, 2015. Johan Victor/Handout via REUTERS

US, Israel, UK Vow Action Against Iran on ‘Mercer Street’ Tanker Attack

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August 2, 2021

By Arsalan Shahla and Gwen Ackerman (Bloomberg) —

The U.S., Israel and the U.K. all vowed to respond to a deadly drone attack on an Israeli-linked tanker last week in a major waterway for global oil shipments that they blamed on Iran.

“There will be a collective response,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters Monday. Blinken gave no details of what that might entail.

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 Tehran denied carrying out, was the first to kill crew members — a Romanian and a Briton.

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.

“I promise you that Israel will not sit silently by after a strike against ships or citizens and will respond once it finds the where, the when and the how,” Ram Ben Barak, the head of the Israeli parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, told Army Radio on Monday.

The U.K. said in a statement that it had summoned Iran’s ambassador to the Foreign Office in London. It’s also sending a team to investigate the attack on the Mercer Street oil-products tanker, now moored off the United Arab Emirates, its deputy envoy to Israel told Israeli broadcaster Kan.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Sky News that Iran should “face up to the consequences” of its actions. He called the episode an “unacceptable and outrageous attack on commercial shipping.”

In turn, Iran said it had called the British charge d’affaires in Tehran to its Foreign Ministry to protest the accusations against it, state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Blinken said he didn’t see the attack on the oil-products tanker as a sign of a more combative approach by Iran as its new hard-line president, Ebrahim Raisi, is set to take office on Tuesday.

“We have seen a series of actions taken by Iran over many months, including against shipping, so I’m not sure that this particular action is anything new or augurs anything one way or another for the new government,” Blinken said.

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 over the weekend that he was “confident” Iran used “one-way explosive” drones in Thursday’s attack. U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said “one or more” of the unmanned drones may have been involved in the hit.

Romania “retains its right to act accordingly, together with its international partners, in order to have an adequate response,” the country’s Foreign Ministry said in e-mailed response to Bloomberg questions, saying it had summoned the Iranian envoy.

Israel’s Message

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 which 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.

An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman rejected Israel’s accusations of responsibility for the tanker attack in a press briefing in Tehran on Sunday, saying it wasn’t 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.(Updates Secretary Blinken’s comments starting in second paragraph)

–With assistance from Ian Fisher, Verity Ratcliffe, Andra Timu, Charles Capel and Nick Wadhams.

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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