Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Iranian navy seizes Israel-linked container ship amid escalating tensions in Middle East | CNN

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Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized an Israeli-linked container ship in a helicopter operation near the Strait of Hormuz, state news agency IRNA reported, with tensions already high after Iran warned it would retaliate for a suspected Israeli strike on its consulate in Syria.

IRNA reported that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Navy seized the Portuguese-flagged MSC Aries, which is now being “directed back to Iranian territorial waters.”

According to IRNA, the vessel is managed by the Zodiac Maritime, a company linked to Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer.

Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) has confirmed the seizure, saying there are 25 crew on board. Portugal’s government said that it was in touch with the Iranian authorities.

The Strait of Hormuz, at the northern end of the Gulf of Oman, is the biggest oil chokepoint in the world. About 20% of the world’s daily consumption of oil passes through it every day.

Iran has carried out similar seizures before. In January, Tehran seized an oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman and transferred it to an Iranian port in response to the United States confiscating the same vessel and its oil last year.

Tensions in the region are heightened after the strike on Iran’s consulate in the Syrian capital Damascus, which killed seven officials including a top IRGC commander, and the seizure comes against the backdrop of the conflict in Gaza.

The Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have frequently been targeting shipping in the Red Sea area, while there have been regular exchanges between Hezbollah and Israel along Lebanon’s southern border.

The United States currently expects Iran will carry out strikes against multiple targets inside Israel and that Iranian proxies could also be involved in carrying out the attacks, sources say, in what would mark a major escalation.

US President Joe Biden on Friday predicted that Iran’s attacks were coming “sooner rather than later” and sought to once again issue a stern public warning, saying that his message to Tehran was simply: “Don’t.”

In a video statement released Saturday, Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Daniel Hagari warned Israel was on “high alert” for “Iranian aggression.”

European officials warned against further escalation between Israel and Iran.

The United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary, David Cameron, wrote on social media platform X that he had spoken with Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz.

The two discussed their “shared concerns about Iranian threats to attack Israel,” Cameron wrote, adding that “further escalation in the region is in no-one’s interest and risks further loss of civilian life.”

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