US vows 'collective response' to Iran after 'Mercer' tanker attack

Blinken says Iranian government is showing 'tremendous irresponsibility' by carrying out such attacks

The US secretary of state announced that the US is co-ordinating with countries affiliated with the ship in determining a response.  US Navy/AFP/XGTY
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday pledged a “collective response” to the attack on the MV Mercer Street that he said was carried out by the Iranian government.

Mr Blinken, speaking at the State Department, announced that the US is co-ordinating with countries affiliated with the ship to determine a response.

“We are in very close contact, in co-ordination with the United Kingdom, Israel, Romania and other countries,” he said. “There will be a collective response.”

He reiterated US confidence that Iran was behind the attack in the Arabian Sea last week and called Tehran's behaviour “tremendously irresponsible".

“We have seen a series of actions taken by Iran over many months, including against shipping, so I am not sure this particular action is anything new,” he said.

“What it does say is that Iran continues to act with tremendous irresponsibility when it comes to, in this instance, threats to navigation, to commerce, to innocent sailors who are simply engaged in commercial transit in international waters.”

The company that owns the Mercer belongs to Israeli tycoon Eyal Ofer.

Tehran has denied involvement in the attack in which two crew members — a Briton and a Romanian − were killed.

The US administration and its allies could be considering a range of options as they determine the appropriate response, experts said.

These could include “sanctions by the US and EU against Iran's drone industry, but specifically the foreign procurement networks and domestic production sectors that are already servicing Iran's sanctioned defence-industrial complex,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies.

With the inauguration of Iran’s new hard-line president, Ebrahim Raisi, planned for Thursday, Mr Taleblu said “any European power sending a delegation to Tehran … should reconsider".

But when it comes to military options, the expert told The National that Israel — not the US — is likely to take the lead.

“To prevent or reduce the likelihood of further attacks, deterrence by punishment can include kinetic retaliation. Israel may already be inclined to take the lead on this given the ongoing Israeli-Iranian shadow war,” he said.

Mr Taleblu saw the attack and threats to maritime navigation in the Gulf as further impetus for the US “to support the development of an integrated air and missile defence system in the Middle East".

Ryan Bohl of the intelligence firm Stratfor mentioned cyber attacks as another option for the US response.

The expert said Mr Blinken’s comments suggested the possibility of “a cyber or covert response as well as yet more sanctions".

He noted, however, that the Biden administration’s priority remains preventing an escalation spiral between the US and Iran, and simply putting the incident behind them.

At the White House, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met his Israeli counterpart Eyal Hulata.

“Mr Sullivan and Dr Hulata discussed the strategic challenges in the region, including the threat posed by Iran, and agreed to consult closely on these issues,” the White House said.

Discussions also included “advancing the normalisation of relations between Israel and countries in the Arab and Muslim world and recent positive developments in Israel’s relationship with Jordan” as well as “pursuing positive steps related to the Palestinians, which are critical to peace, security and prosperity,” the statement said.

The visit was made in part to plan Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's first trip to the US and his meeting with US President Joe Biden.

Updated: August 02, 2021, 10:35 PM