The Iranian ambassador to the UK has been summoned to the Foreign Office following a drone strike on an oil tanker, which killed a British citizen – as Tehran warned of a strong response if the country’s security or interests are threatened.
The attack on the Israeli-linked vessel Mercer Street took place off the coast of Oman on Thursday night and saw a hole blasted through the vessel’s bridge, according to the British maritime security firm Ambrey. Two crew members were killed, one British and one Romanian.
The UK, US and Israel have said it is highly likely that Iran was behind the strike, which was the first known fatal attack after years of assaults on commercial shipping in the region, linked to tensions between Israel and Iran.
Middle East minister James Cleverly told the Iranian diplomat Mohsen Baharvand that Tehran must “immediately cease actions that risk international peace and security”.
Tehran has denied any involvement, with Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh telling state TV: “Iran has no hesitation in protecting its security and national interests and will respond promptly and strongly to any possible adventure.”
He added that he “strongly regretted the baseless accusations made by the British foreign secretary against Iran, which were repeated by the US secretary of state in the same context and contained contradictory, false and provocative accusations”.
Later on Monday, Iran summoned the British chargé d’affaires – a substitute for an absent ambassador – in Tehran over the UK’s “accusations against the Islamic Republic”, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
The US and Britain said on Sunday they would work with their partners to respond to the attack on the Liberian-flagged, Japanese-owned petroleum product tanker, managed by Israeli-owned Zodiac Maritime.
According to vessel trackers at Refinitiv, the merchant vessel had been travelling from the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates. The UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said the vessel was about 152 nautical miles northeast of the Omani port of Duqm when it was attacked.
The drone assault followed similar attacks on three other Israeli-linked ships in the region since February, the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “The Iranian ambassador to the UK, Mohsen Baharvand, was summoned today to the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office by the minister for the Middle East, James Cleverly, in response to the unlawful attack committed on MV Mercer Street on 29 July.
“Minister Cleverly reiterated that Iran must immediately cease actions that risk international peace and security, and reinforced that vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law.”
Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, said he is confident that Iran carried out the attack using explosive drones – “a lethal capability it is increasingly employing throughout the region”. The US navy’s Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier was called in to escort the tanker to a safe port following the attack.
Israel’s prime minister, Naftali Bennett, accused Tehran of “trying to shirk responsibility” for the attack in a “cowardly” fashion.
And Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid warned that the threat posed by Iran “will only increase when the ‘Butcher of Tehran’ [Ebrahim] Raisi becomes president”, saying he had told Mr Raab that Thursday’s attack – which he called a “terrorist act” – deserved a “severe” response.
However, an unnamed Iranian official told the country's Nournews news agency earlier that Tehran considered “the threats of western officials and the Zionist regime [Israel] to be more of a propaganda gesture”.
“And Washington and London will be directly responsible for the consequences,” added the official, believed to be close to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.
Additional reporting by agencies