Politics & News

Amid Growing Tensions, Iran Seizes Israeli-linked Ship near Strait of Hormuz

Iran Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) seized an Israeli-linked container ship near the Strait of Hormuz on Saturday, reported the Associated Press (AP) citing Iran’s state-run news agency IRNA.

Days after Tehran’s warning of retaliation over an Israeli strike on its consulate in Damascus, a special forces unit of the Guards’ navy carried out the attack against the Portuguese-flagged MSC Aries, a container ship associated with London-based Zodiac Maritime.

Zodiac Maritime is an affiliate of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group.

Amid Growing Tensions, Iran Seizes Israeli-linked Ship near Strait of Hormuz
An image from a video showing a helicopter raiding a vessel near the Strait of Hormuz

MSC confirmed the seizure of the vessel, with 25 crew member on board. “We are working closely with the relevant authorities to ensure their wellbeing, and safe return of the vessel,” MSC said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an Indian government official said that 17 of the crew were Indians.

A video of the attack, shared with AP by a Middle East defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, shows Iranian commandos rappelling down from a helicopter on to a ship. The video matches the known details of MSC Aries. The helicopter used also appeared to be a Soviet-era Mil Mi-17 helicopter.

This incident comes amid growing regional tensions since the start of Israel’s offensive against Gaza in October, which is marked by repeated clashes between Israel or its ally the US and Iranian-backed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

On April 1, suspected Israeli airstrikes hit Iran’s consulate in Damascus, Syria, killing 7 IRGC officers including two senior commanders.

Tehran vowed revenge. On Tuesday, the naval head of the Revolutionary Guards, Alireza Tangsiri threatened it could close the Strait of Hormuz if deemed necessary. The potential Iranian retaliation has put Israel and the US on high alert.

According to Reuters, US President Joe Biden said on Friday that he expected an Iranian attack on Israel “sooner rather than later” and warned Iran not to do so.

Responding to reports of the seizure of MSC Aries, Israel’s military spokesperson, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, said “Iran will bear consequences for choosing to escalate this situation any further.”

Meanwhile, Israeli Foreign Minister, Israel Katz, accused Tehran of piracy.

Amid Growing Tensions, Iran Seizes Israeli-linked Ship near Strait of Hormuz
Tracker shows path of seized MSC Aries in Strait of Hormuz

Hasan Alhasan, an analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), said that if the seizure of the vessel was in response to the Israeli strike on Iran’s consulate in Damascus, then it showed a desire to save face while avoiding wider escalation.

He said, “Iran may be trying to play on fears that it could obstruct shipping through the strait,” adding that “If Iran were to limit itself to seizing commercial vessels linked to Israel then it would minimize the risk of an all-out conflict but damage its own credibility.”

The Strait of Hormuz is a crucial shipping route linking the Arabian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea through which a fifth of all global oil supplies pass.

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