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Iran's Revolutionary Guards seize Israel-linked cargo ship in Strait of Hormuz amid boiling tensions: Report

The UK Maritime Trade Operations said the vessel was seized by "regional authorities" in the Gulf of Oman. Tehran's seizure of the vessel comes at a time of high tensions as the Middle East is bracing for a possible Iranian attack on Israel in response to a strike on Iran's embassy in Syria.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Tehran Published on: April 13, 2024 17:55 IST
Strait of Hormuz, Iran seizes vessel
Image Source : AP (REPRESENTATIVE) Iran seized the vessel at the Strait of Hormuz amid rising tensions with the West.

Tehran: Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) seized an Israeli-linked cargo ship in the Strait of Hormuz on Saturday, according to the state-controlled IRNA news agency, after Tehran warned it could close the area to sea traffic amid tensions with the West. IRNA reported that a Guards helicopter had boarded the Portuguese-flagged MSC Aries ship and taken it into Iranian waters.

This comes at a time of intense tensions as the Middle East had braced for potential Iranian retaliation over a suspected Israeli strike earlier this month on an Iranian consular building in Syria that killed 12 people, including a senior Guard general who once commanded its expeditionary Quds Force. This has threatened a wider conflict amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza that is inflaming decades-old tensions in the region.

The captured vessel is linked to London-based Zodiac Maritime., which is part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer's Zodiac Group. Zodiac declined to comment and referred questions to MSC. A Middle East defence official shared a video of the attack with the Associated Press, where commandos were seen rappelling down onto a stack of containers sitting on the deck of the vessel.

A crew member on the ship can be heard saying: “Don't come out.” He then tells his colleagues to go to the ship's bridge as more commandos come down on the deck. One commando can be seen kneeling above the others to provide them with potential cover fire. The helicopter used also appeared to be a Soviet-era Mil Mi-17 helicopter, which both the Guard and the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels of Yemen have used in the past.

Iran's attack on vessels

Israel's military spokesperson, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, said "Iran will bear consequences for choosing to escalate this situation any further", in response to reports of the seizure of MSC Aries. This came after the naval head of the Revolutionary Guards, Alireza Tangsiri, said it could close the Strait of Hormuz if deemed necessary.

He said Iran viewed Israel's presence in the UAE as a threat, as Israel established diplomatic relations with Dubai in 2020 as part of the "Abraham Accords" mediated by the United States. Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi group has disrupted global trade with attacks on shipping in the Red Sea for months in retaliation for Israel's campaign in Gaza.

The British military's United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations described the vessel as being “seized by regional authorities” in the Gulf of Oman off the Emirati port city of Fujairah, which has seen several hijackings and bombings since 2019. The ship was seized despite turning off its tracking data, which has been common for Israeli-affiliated ships moving through the region.

The Aries is leased by international shipping line MSC from Gortal Shipping, an affiliate of Zodiac Maritime, Zodiac said in a statement, adding that MSC is responsible for all vessel activities. The incident comes as the United States and its ally Israel have repeatedly clashed with  Iranian-aligned groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Iran since 2019 has engaged in a series of ship seizures and attacks on vessels that have been attributed to it amid ongoing tensions with the West over its rapidly advancing nuclear programme. The Gulf of Oman is near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of all globally traded oil passes.

US warns Iran over imminent attack on Israel

Iran has threatened to retaliate for suspected Israeli airstrikes on its consulate in Syria's capital Damascus on April 1 that killed seven Revolutionary Guards officers including two senior commanders. President Joe Biden said on Friday he expected Iran to attack Israel "sooner, rather than later" and warned Tehran not to proceed.

Biden simply said, "Don't," as he reiterated Washington's commitment to defend Israel. "We are devoted to the defence of Israel. We will support Israel. We will help defend Israel and Iran will not succeed," he told reporters. A report by the Wall Street Journal on Friday said that Iran is likely to unleash an attack on Israel within the next two days amid escalating tensions between the two countries.

Countries including India, France, Poland and Russia have warned their citizens against travel to the region, already on edge over the war in Gaza, now in its seventh month. Germany on Friday called on its citizens to leave Iran. White House spokesperson John Kirby said the reportedly imminent attack by Iran on Israel was a real and viable threat and the US is watching the situation closely.

(with inputs from agencies)

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