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Iran-Israel tensions rise over deadly ship attack

BBC News logo BBC News 1/8/2021
Naftali Bennett wearing a suit and tie: Naftali Bennett raised speculation about retaliation, saying "we know how to send a message to Iran in our own way" © EPA Naftali Bennett raised speculation about retaliation, saying "we know how to send a message to Iran in our own way"

Israel's PM has said he knows "with certainty" Iran was involved in a deadly tanker attack off Oman, accusations Tehran called "baseless".

Two crew members died when the MV Mercer Street, operated by an Israeli-owned firm, was attacked on Thursday.

Israeli PM Naftali Bennett warned "we know how to send a message to Iran", while Tehran said it would "not hesitate to defend its interests".

There have been several recent attacks on Israeli- and Iranian-operated ships.

The attacks since March have been seen as tit-for-tat incidents.

The BBC's security correspondent, Frank Gardner, says this undeclared shadow war - and its counter-denials - had been heating up, but the human casualties on the Mercer Street marked a significant escalation.

A British security guard and a Romanian crew member died on the Zodiac Maritime-owned vessel, with the operator and the US pointing to a drone attack.

Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, Saeed Khatibzadeh, told reporters Israel "must stop such baseless accusations".

He said of the allegations: "Whoever sows the wind reaps the whirlwind."

Mr Bennett told a cabinet meeting on Sunday intelligence evidence existed that Iran had carried out the attack.

He called on the international community to make it clear that Iran had "made a serious mistake".

He added: "In any case, we know how to send a message to Iran in our own way."

Iran has also accused Israel of attacks on its nuclear sites and scientists.

It comes against a backdrop of talks in Vienna that are trying to revive a 2015 international deal under which sanctions on Iran are lifted in return for commitments from Tehran to curb its nuclear programme. Western countries accuse Iran of trying to build a nuclear bomb. Iran, in turn, denies this, insisting its nuclear programme is focused on research and power generation.

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