UK officials told The Times Wednesday that a “squad” of some five to six heavily armed Iranians had taken over the Asphalt Princess, who then bolted after seeing Omani and American naval vessels approaching.
By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News
Despite its denials, officials say Iran was definitely behind the attempted hijacking Tuesday of a Panama-flagged vessel off the Emirati coast.
UK officials told The Times Wednesday that a “squad” of some five to six heavily armed Iranians had taken over the Asphalt Princess, who then bolted after seeing Omani and American naval vessels approaching. The crew also helped foil the hijacking, by disabling the ship’s engines, the British daily reported.
Radio traffic between a crew member of the tanker and the UAE coast guard obtained by AP backed up the contention on the identity of the hijackers.
“Iranian people are onboard with ammunition,” the crew member is heard saying in the recording. “We are … now, drifting. We cannot tell you exact our ETA to (get to) Sohar,” the Omani port that was the ship’s destination.
When the coast guard asked what the armed men were doing, the crewman said he “cannot understand the [Iranians],” and then the call was cut off.
Satellite-tracking data for the Asphalt Princess had showed it gradually heading toward Iranian waters off the port of Jask early Wednesday, according to MarineTraffic.com. Hours later, it stopped and then changed course toward Oman, just before the British navy announced that the intruders had left.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh had categorically denied on Tuesday that his country had anything to do with the temporary hijacking, calling the charges “rumors and the fake news of Western and Zionist media.”
This incident follows last week’s assault on an Israeli-managed oil tanker off the coast of Oman. A drone was flown into the Mercer Street, killing two security guards, one a Romanian citizen and one British. On Wednesday, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid named Saeed Ara Jani, head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) UAV Command, as the person responsible for the attack.
“The world needs to respond,” they told the ambassadors of UN Security Council countries who had been invited to the briefing, since this was “an attack on the West” in general and not Israel in particular.
Jerusalem is prepared to respond on its own if need be, however. In a Thursday interview on Ynet, Gantz was asked if Israel is ready for an attack on Iran, and responded succinctly, “Yes.”
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said already Tuesday that Iran “should face up to the consequences of what they have done.” The British foreign office summoned the Islamic Republic’s ambassador to London for a dressing down, telling Mohsen Baharvand that his country must “immediately cease actions that risk international peace and security”, and that “vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law.”
For its part, Iran denied any involvement in the deadly incident, calling the accusations “baseless.” Khatibzadeh warned on Iranian state television that “The Islamic Republic of Iran has no hesitation in protecting its security and national interests and will respond promptly and strongly to any possible adventure.”