Iran on Sunday rejected Israel’s “baseless accusations” of being behind a deadly tanker attack off Oman, vowing to defend its interests after its arch-foe pushed for UN action against Tehran.

The MT Mercer Street, managed by prominent Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer, was struck Thursday off the coast of Oman, in an incident Israel has blamed on Iran.

Two crew members were killed, a British security guard and a Romanian crew member, in what the US military and the vessel’s operator Zodiac Maritime said appeared to be a drone strike.

On Friday, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he had ordered the nation’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism”.

But Iran dismissed the claims.

“The Zionist regime … must stop such baseless accusations — and it is not their first time to direct such accusations at Iran,” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters in a televised press conference.

“Iran will not hesitate for a moment to defend its… interests and national security,” Khatibzadeh added.

On Saturday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Lapid and agreed to work with other allies “to investigate the facts, provide support, and consider the appropriate next steps,” according to a State Department statement.

Maritime industry analysts Dryad Global said the attack was the fifth against a ship connected to Israel since February.

The oil products tanker was travelling from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates with no cargo aboard when it was struck, Zodiac Maritime said.

– Tit-for-tat attacks -In recent months, there have been several reported attacks on Iran’s shipping fleet, that Tehran has linked to Israel.

In March, Iran’s foreign ministry said it was “considering all options” in response to an attack on a cargo ship in the Mediterranean it blamed on Israel.

And in April, Tehran said its freighter Saviz was hit by an “explosion” in the Red Sea, after media reports said Israel had struck the ship.

The New York Times reported at the time that the Saviz had been targeted in an Israeli “retaliatory” attack after “Iran’s earlier strikes on Israeli ships”.

It came at a time of heightened tensions between the foes, with reports of a series of tit-for-tat attacks on shipping since early March.
In a report published in March that cited US and Middle East officials, the Wall Street Journal said Israel has targeted at least a dozen vessels bound for Syria and mostly carrying Iranian oil since late 2019.
“The occupier regime knows that such (accusations) will not fix its problems. Whoever sows the wind reaps the whirlwind,” Khatibzadeh said.

Iran has also accused Israel of being behind sabotage attacks against its nuclear sites, and assassinating a number of its scientists.

The tanker strike comes as Tehran and world powers are engaged in talks in Vienna in an effort to return Washington to a 2015 nuclear deal and lift sanctions, and bring Iran back in compliance with nuclear commitments it waived in retaliation to sanctions.

The accord was strained when in 2018 former US President Donald Trump withdrew the US unilaterally and reimposed sanctions.

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