Iran once more denies involvement in Gulf maritime incident

Maritime tensions involving Iran, Israel and Western states escalated additional Tuesday when the British army reported a bitumen tanker might have been hijacked. Iran promptly denied involvement.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations reported the “incident” off the coast of the Emirati metropolis of Fujairah. The operations middle later mentioned the occasion was a “potential hijack” with out offering additional particulars, The Associated Press reported. Reuters, quoting maritime safety sources, later mentioned the Panamanian-flagged tanker Asphalt Princess had been seized by Iranian-backed forces.

The ship was within the Gulf of Oman between Oman and Iran late Tuesday evening, in accordance with the maritime monitoring web site MarineTraffic. The tanker set sail from Khor Fakkan within the the United Arab Emirates and was en path to the Omani metropolis of Sohar, per the web site. 

The incident adopted an assault on the Japanese-owned, Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street on Thursday that killed two crew members: one British and one Romanian. The ship is managed by the United Kingdom-based firm Zodiac Maritime, which is owned by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer. Both Israel and the UK subsequently blamed Iran for the incident, and mentioned it was a drone assault. Iran summoned British and Romanian diplomats in response. 

Later Tuesday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry denied “rumors about the entry of the country’s military forces into foreign ships passing in the Persian Gulf,” the semi-official Press TV reported, saying the allegations were propagated by “Western and Zionist media.” 

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby would not confirm the maritime trade operations center’s claim Tuesday, but also did not rule out the military’s potential involvement in the proposed response to last week’s drone attack on the Mercer Street.

“A coordinated response doesn’t have to be a military response,” Kirby told reporters, before adding, “Certainly we’ll do what we need to do to protect our forces and our interests.”

The head of US forces in the Middle East, Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, spoke on the phone with the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, on Monday, the US military said on Twitter. The IDF also confirmed the two military leaders spoke about recent events in the region in a tweet.

Neither the UAE nor Oman immediately commented on the issue. Omani Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr Hamad al-Busaidi had met his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javaf Zarif on Tuesday to discuss strengthening ties between the countries, according to the official Oman News Agency. 

Tensions have been brewing in the Gulf throughout 2021. There were three other attacks on Israeli ships earlier this year in the strategic waterway. In early July, a ship previously owned by Zodiac Maritime was targeted in the Indian Ocean. 

Elsewhere, Iran-backed militias in Iraq have also been attacking US troops in the country, which has prompted retaliatory US airstrikes. Iran also accused Israel of sabotaging one of its nuclear facilities in June. 

The United States vowed to respond to the attack that killed the British and Romanian crew members. The incidents could also affect US efforts to negotiate a return to the Iran nuclear deal. 


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