Iran seizes Israeli-linked ship with 25 crew near Strait of Hormuz

TEHRAN/TEL AVIV  -  Commandos from Iran’s paramili­tary Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps rappelled down from a heli­copter onto an Israeli-affiliated con­tainer ship near the Strait of Hormuz and seized the vessel Saturday.

Iran’s state-run IRNA said a spe­cial forces unit of the Guard’s navy carried out the attack on the vessel, the Portuguese-flagged MSC Aries, a container ship associated with Lon­don-based Zodiac Maritime. Zodiac Maritime is part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group.

A video first reported by The As­sociated Press showed commandos raiding the ship near the key water­way by helicopter.

Zodiac declined to comment and referred questions to MSC. Gene­va-based MSC later acknowledged the seizure and said 25 crew had been aboard the vessel. IRNA said the Guard would take the vessel into Iranian territorial waters.

The MSC Aries had been last lo­cated off Dubai heading toward the Strait of Hormuz on Friday. The ship had turned off its tracking data, which has been common for Israe­li-affiliated ships moving through the region. The video showed the at­tack earlier reported by the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations. It described the vessel as being “seized by regional authorities” in the Gulf of Oman off the Emirati port city of Fujairah.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Isra­el Katz called on nations to list the Guard as a terrorist organization. 

Iran “is a criminal regime that sup­ports Hamas’ crimes and is now con­ducting a pirate operation in viola­tion of international law,” Katz said.

In previous seizures, Iran has of­fered initial explanations about its operations to make it seem like the attacks had nothing to do with the wider geopolitical tensions — though later acknowledging as much. In Saturday’s attack, however, Iran telling offered no explanation for the seizure other than to say the MSC Aries had links to Israel.

For days, Iranian officials up to and including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have been threatening to “slap” Israel for the Syria strike. Western governments have issued warnings to their citizens in the re­gion to be prepared for attacks.

However, Iran in the past large­ly has avoided directly attacking Is­rael, despite it carrying out the tar­geted killing of nuclear scientists and multiple sabotage campaigns against Iran’s atomic sites. Iran has, however, targeted Israeli or Jew­ish-linked sites through proxy forc­es over the decades. The Gulf of Oman is near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of all oil passes. Fujairah, on the United Arab Emirates’ eastern coast, is a main port in the region for ships to take on new oil cargo, pick up supplies or trade out crew.

Since 2019, the waters off Fujairah have seen a series of explosions and hijackings. The US Navy blamed Iran for limpet mine attacks on vessels that damaged tankers.

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