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Mysterious blast raises security concerns in the Gulf of Oman

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In this Aug. 14, 2020, photo, the vehicle cargo ship Helios Ray is seen at the Port of Chiba in Chiba, Japan. An explosion struck the Israeli-owned Helios Ray as it sailed out of the Middle East on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, an unexplained blast renewing concerns about ship security in the region amid escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
In this Aug. 14, 2020, photo, the vehicle cargo ship Helios Ray is seen at the Port of Chiba in Chiba, Japan. An explosion struck the Israeli-owned Helios Ray as it sailed out of the Middle East on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, an unexplained blast renewing concerns about ship security in the region amid escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran. (Katsumi Yamamoto via AP) (kamran jebreili/Associated Press) Photo Gallery

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday accused Iran of attacking an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman last week, a mysterious explosion that further spiked security concerns in the region.

Without offering any evidence to his claim, Netanyahu told Israeli public broadcaster Kan that “it was indeed an act by Iran, that’s clear.”

“Iran is the greatest enemy of Israel, I am determined to halt it. We are hitting it in the entire region,” Netanyahu said. Iran promptly dismissed the charges.

The blast struck the Israeli-owned MV Helios Ray, a Bahamian-flagged roll-on, roll-off vehicle cargo ship, as it was sailing out of the Middle East on its way to Singapore on Friday. The crew was unharmed, but the vessel sustained two holes on its port side and two on its starboard side just above the waterline, according to American defense officials.

The ship came to Dubai’s port for repairs on Sunday, days after the blast that revived security concerns in Mideast waterways amid heightened tensions with Iran.

Iran has sought to pressure the U.S. to lift sanctions on Tehran as President Joe Biden’s administration considers option for returning to negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Biden has said repeatedly the U.S. would return to the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers that his predecessor, Donald Trump, withdrew from in 2018 only after Iran restores its full compliance with the accord.

The explosion on the Israeli-owned ship last week recalled the tense summer of 2019, when the U.S. military accused Iran of attacking several oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman with limpet mines, designed to be attached magnetically to a ship’s hull. The Gulf of Oman leads through the narrow Strait of Hormuz, a vital passage for the world’s oil supplies. Tehran has denied the accusations that it was behind the limpet mine attacks.

It remains unclear what caused Friday’s blast on the Helios Ray. The vessel had discharged cars at various ports in the Persian Gulf before the explosion forced it to reverse course. Over the weekend, Israel’s defense minister and army chief had both indicated they held Iran responsible for what they said was an attack on the vessel.

Iran responded to Netanyahu’s statement saying it “strongly rejected” the claim that it was behind the attack.

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