UK vows to retaliate after Iran drone attack

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US Navy personnel escort the Mercer Street through the Strait of Hormuz
US Navy personnel escort the Mercer Street through the Strait of Hormuz

Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, has directly blamed Iran and said the UK is working on a “concerted response” after a drone attack killed a British citizen on an oil tanker off the coast of Oman on Thursday night.

Earlier on Sunday Israel claimed they had intelligence that Iran was behind the attack. The two countries have been waging a long-running shadow war.

“We believe this attack was deliberate, targeted, and a clear violation of international law by Iran. UK assessments have concluded that it is highly likely that Iran attacked the MV MERCER STREET in international waters off Oman on 29 July using one or more Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs),” Mr Raab said in a statement.

“Iran must end such attacks, and vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law. The UK is working with our international partners on a concerted response to this unacceptable attack,” he added.

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The Government held a Cobra meeting over the weekend to discuss the incident, it was reported on Sunday night.

“It is highly likely that Iran attacked the MV Mercer Street in international waters off Oman on July 29 using one or more Unmanned Aerial Vehicles,” Mr Raab said on Sunday night.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken said he was also confident that Iran was behind the attack

In a weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday morning, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said: “The Iranians, who attacked the ship ‘Mercer Street’ with UAVs [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles], intended to attack an Israeli target”.

Commenting on Tehran’s denial earlier on Sunday that they were involved in the attack, Mr Bennett said: “I just heard that Iran, in a cowardly manner, is trying to shirk responsibility for the event. They are denying this. I determine, with absolute certainty: Iran carried out the attack against the ship.”

"The intelligence evidence for this exists and we expect the international community will make it clear to the Iranian regime that they have made a serious mistake. In any case, we know how to send a message to Iran in our own way,” he added, in what appeared to be a veiled threat to retaliate for the attack.

Mr Bennett did not offer up any details as to the nature of the intelligence they have that points towards Iran.

Simmering tensions between Israel and Iran have been linked to years of attacks on commercial shipping in the region.

Thursday’s attack on the Israeli-linked ship was the first known fatal assault in the shadow maritime conflict between the two foes, escalating tensions and further involving other nations - including the UK - in the conflict.

The Mercer Street is Japanese-owned but managed by London-based Zodiac Maritime, which is part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s larger Zodiac Group.

The UK is the first country besides Israel to directly blame Iran for the attack.

“It’s not the first time that the Zionist regime occupying Jerusalem has made such empty accusations against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said. “Wherever this regime has gone, it has taken instability, terror and violence with it.”

“Whoever sows the wind shall reap the whirlwind,” he added.

Two of the crew - an unnamed Briton and an unnamed Romanian - were killed when a wave of self-detonating “suicide drones” hit the oil tanker at around 3am on Thursday night.

Prior to Mr Bennett’s comments, Mr Blinken agreed to work with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, to “investigate the facts, provide support, and consider the appropriate next steps,” a US State Department statement read.

While analysts have said that the attack has all of the hallmarks of the tit-for-tat maritime exchanges between the two countries, no conclusive evidence has yet been presented to confirm that it is an Iranian attack.

The escalation of tensions comes as Iran is set to inaugurate a new hard-line president on Thursday ahead of the resumption of nuclear talk negotiations with world powers.

Iran's outgoing president Hassan Rouhani on Sunday morning acknowledged his nation at times "did not tell part of the truth" to its people during his eight-year tenure, without elaborating on what he was referring to in the remarks aired on state TV.

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