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Iran seizes Israel-linked cargo ship as world braces for revenge attack

Iranian forces seized an Israeli-linked cargo ship in the Strait of Hormuz on Saturday, as the world braced for Tehran’s feared retaliation for a deadly Israeli strike on its consulate.

Commandos from Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard dropped from a helicopter onto the MSC Aries, a container vessel associated with Zodiac Maritime, run by Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer.

Iran said the vessel would be taken into Iranian territorial waters, though it has not explained the incident.

US president Joe Biden returned to Washington on Saturday afternoon to consult with his national security team a day after saying that he expects an Iranian attack against Israel “sooner, rather than later.” Asked by reporters for his message to Iran about a possible attack, Biden replied: “Don’t.”

The anticipated attack would be retaliation for an Israeli strike earlier this month on an Iranian consular building in Syria that killed 12 people, including a senior Guard general who once commanded its expeditionary Quds Force there.

Israel placed its armed forces on full alert, and has called off school trips and other youth activities planned for the coming days, the beginning of the Passover festival.

Biden on Friday said the United States was “devoted” to defending Israel and that “Iran will not succeed.”

Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza is now six months old and is inflaming decades-old tensions across the whole region.

With Iranian-backed forces such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Yemen’s Houthi rebels also involved in the fighting, any new attack in the Middle East threatens to escalate that conflict into a wider regional war.

Video of the ship seizure, showed Iranian commandos rappelling down o to a stack of containers on the deck of the vessel from what appeared to be a Soviet-era Mil Mi-17 helicopter.

The MSC Aries had been last located off Dubai heading towards 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.

Iran has engaged in a series of ship seizures and attacks on vessels. In previous incidents, it has initially denied any link to wider geopolitical tensions before later acknowledging as much. However, it has offered no explanation for Saturday’s seizure other than to say the MSC Aries had links to Israel.

For days, Iranian officials 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.

Earlier this week, Guard General Ali Reza Tangsiri, who oversees its naval forces, criticised the presence of Israelis in the region and in the United Arab Emirates. The UAE reached a diplomatic recognition deal with Israel in 2020, something that long has enraged Tehran.

“We know that bringing Zionists in at this point is not merely for economic work,” he reportedly said. “Now, they are carrying out security and military jobs. This is a threat, and this should not happen.”

The Gulf of Oman is near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of all globally traded oil passes. Fujairah, on the United Arab Emirates’ eastern coast, is a main port 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.

Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report


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