Reuters

Sailors prepare an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter, attached to the “Golden Falcons” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 12, to launch on the flight deck of aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), in response to a call for assistance from the Mercer Street, a Japanese-owned Liberian-flagged tanker managed by Israeli-owned Zodiac Maritime, in the Arabian Sea, in the Arabian Sea July 30, 2021. Picture taken July 30, 2021. U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS
Sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 5 board an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter, attached to the "Golden Falcons" of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 12, are seen on the flight deck of aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), in response to a call for assistance from the Mercer Street, a Japanese-owned Liberian-flagged tanker managed by Israeli-owned Zodiac Maritime, in the Arabian Sea July 30, 2021. Picture taken July 30, 2021. U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS
Sailors prepare an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter, attached to the “Golden Falcons” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 12, to launch on the flight deck of aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), in response to a call for assistance from the Mercer Street, a Japanese-owned Liberian-flagged tanker managed by Israeli-owned Zodiac Maritime, in the Arabian Sea, in the Arabian Sea July 30, 2021. Picture taken July 30, 2021. U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS

DUBAI, Aug 1 (Reuters) – Iran said on Sunday it was not involved in an attack on an Israeli-managed petroleum product tanker off the coast of Oman, referring to an incident last week that killed two and which Israel blamed on the Islamic Republic.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett accused Tehran of “trying to shirk responsibility” for Thursday’s incident, and called its denial “cowardly”.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told a weekly news conference that the “Zionist regime (Israel) has created insecurity, terror and violence…These accusations about Iran’s involvement are condemned by Tehran.”

“Such accusations are meant by Israel to divert attention from facts and are baseless,” Khatibzadeh said.

A Briton and a Romanian were killed when the Mercer Street, a Liberian-flagged, Japanese-owned ship managed by Israeli-owned Zodiac Maritime was attacked- apparently by a drone, a U.S. defense official said, thoughconclusive evidence was still needed.

Speaking during a weekly meeting of his cabinet on Sunday, Bennett said: “I declare unequivocally: Iran is the one that carried out the attack on the ship,” adding that intelligence supports his claim.

“We, in any case, have our own way to relay the message to Iran,” Bennett said. Israel’s foreign minister said earlier the incident deserved a harsh response. read more

There were varying explanations for what happened to the tanker. Zodiac Maritime described the incident as “suspected piracy” and a source at the Oman Maritime Security Center as an accident that occurred outside Omani territorial waters.

U.S. and European sources familiar with intelligence reporting said Iran was their leading suspect for the incident.

Iran and Israel have traded accusations of carrying out attacks on each other’s vessels in recent months.

Tensions have risen in the Gulf region since the United States reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018 after then-President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers.

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