Israeli Defense Minister supports response against Iran over ship attack

Defense Minister Gantz says Iran is behind the missile attack on the Israel-owned cargo ship.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Saturday that all indications so far point to Iran as responsible for the missile attack that damaged an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman, Channel 11 reported.

Unnamed Israeli officials told Kan News that the Iranians had crossed a red line by attacking a civilian, non-military target.

“Iran is looking to hit Israeli infrastructure or Israeli citizens,” Gantz said in a Channel 11 interview. “The location of the ship in relatively close proximity to Iran raises the notion, the assessment, that we’re talking about the Iranians.”

Senior unnamed members of the defense establishment support responding to the attack, Channel 11 reported, adding that political and defense leaders would discuss the issue Sunday.

The attack on the ship occurred overnight Thursday in international waters between Iran and Oman when two suspected anti-tank rocket-propelled-grenades were fired from a range of 100-300 meters, Israel Defense News reported. The explosions struck high above the waterline on the MV Helios Ray. No injuries were reported to the 28 crew members.

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“If it had been an anti-ship missile, designed to penetrate a vessel and explode inside it, the damage caused to the Israeli ship would have been much more significant,” IDN reported.

At the time of the explosions, the ship was sailing under the flag of the Bahamas, but the World Maritime Organization (IMO) requires all ships to continuously operate the Automatic Identification System (AIS), which transmits the ship’s identity, location, route, destination and other information. It thus would have been easy for the Iranians to determine that the ship was owned by Israeli businessman Abraham Ungar.

Iran blamed Israel for the November assassination of its top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, and threatened that it would retaliate at some point for the killing. Fakhrizadeh is believed to have headed Iran’s program to develop nuclear weapons.

The hardline Iranian Kayhan daily newspaper closely linked to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday claimed that the Israeli ship was “possibly” on an “espionage” mission in the region, without offering any evidence to support the claim, Ynet reported.

The Iranian paper speculated that the ship may have been “trapped in an ambush by a branch of resistance axis,” referring to Iranian proxy militias that operate in the region.

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Attacks blamed on the Iranians and their proxies have grown in recent weeks. After a rocket attack earlier this month in Iraq targeting U.S. forces, the U.S. launched airstrikes in Syria against Iranian-backed militia groups.