Britain has severely rebuked Iran for an “unlawful and callous” deadly drone attack on a civilian ship, calling it a “clear violation” of international law.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has issued a hard-hitting statement that directly blames the Tehran regime for the strike on Mercer Street which killed a former British soldier and a Romanian.
Mr Raab’s words, which are likely to be backed up by the US, could potentially derail attempts to resurrect the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
Britain also said that it would work with its allies to respond to the attack, which is one of at least four carried out on shipping by Iran this year.
The drone detonated on the bridge of the Israeli-owned ship off the coast of Oman on Thursday.
A statement released by the UK last Friday condemned the attack, but it did not blame any group or country.
But yesterday Mr Raab said the UK believed “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 Mercer Street in international waters off Oman on July 29 using one or more unmanned aerial vehicles,” he said.
“Iran must end such attacks, and vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law.”
He said Britain would work with its international partners for a “concerted response to this unacceptable attack”.
The Foreign Office highlighted three other strikes on Israeli-linked ships since February this year in the same region. Helios Ray was struck in February off Oman, then Hyperion Ray off the coast of the UAE in April, and the Tyndall on July 2, also off the UAE.
It said that in the summer of 2019 Iran was also “almost certainly responsible” for attacks on two vessels in the Gulf of Oman.
Earlier, Israel’sForeign Minister Yari Lapid had pressed Britain to act against Tehran.
“I noted to him [Mr Raab] the need to respond severely to the attack,” Mr Lapid said. “The world must not be silent in the face of Iranian terror.”
On Saturday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Mr Lapid and agreed to work with other allies “to investigate the facts, provide support, and consider the appropriate next steps,” the State Department said.
The company that owns the Mercer Street belongs to Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer and Britain's condemnation will be welcomed in Israel, which has been pushing for a tougher stance on Iran.
“The UK condemns the unlawful and callous attack committed on a merchant vessel off the coast of Oman,” Mr Raab said. “Our thoughts are with the friends and family of those killed in the incident.”
Hours before his statement, Iran rejected Israel's “baseless accusations”.
“It is not their first time to direct such accusations at Iran,” Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said. “Iran will not hesitate for a moment to defend its interests and national security.”
The drone strike is similar to others that have occurred in the “shadow war” between Israel and Iran, in which vessels linked to each nation have been targeted in waters around the Gulf.