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Iran’s Revolutionary Guard seizes a container ship near Strait of Hormuz amid tensions with Israel

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Commandos from Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guards rappelled from a helicopter onto an Israeli-affiliated container ship near the Strait of Hormuz and seized the vessel Saturday in the latest attack between two countries.

The seizure follows a suspected Israeli strike this month on an Iranian consular building in Syria that killed 12 people, including a Guard general.

Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip has stoked decades-old tensions in the region. With Iranian-backed forces like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Houthi rebels in Yemen also involved in the fighting, any new attacks in the Middle East threaten to turn this conflict into a wider regional war.

Iran’s official IRNA agency said a Guard Navy special forces unit carried out the attack on the Portuguese-flagged MSC Aries, a container ship associated with London-based Zodiac Maritime.

Zodiac Maritime is part of the Zodiac group of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer. Zodiac declined to comment and referred questions to MSC. Geneva-based MSC acknowledged the seizure and said 25 crew members were on board the ship.

“We are working closely with the relevant authorities to ensure their well-being and the safe return of the ship,” MSC said.

An Indian government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give information to journalists, said 17 members of the crew were Indian.

IRNA said the Guard would take the ship into Iranian territorial waters.

A Middle East defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, provided The Associated Press with video of the attack in which Iranian commandos are seen rappelling down on a stack of containers on the deck of the ship.

A crew member can be heard saying: “Don’t go out. » He then tells his colleagues to go to the ship’s bridge as other commandos come down. One commando can be seen kneeling above the others to provide them with potential covering fire.

The British Army’s Maritime Commercial Operations in the United Kingdom described the ship as having been “seized by regional authorities” in the Gulf of Oman, off the coast of the Emirati port city of Fujairah, without further details.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz called on nations to classify the Guard as a terrorist organization.

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

For days, Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have threatened to “slap” Israel for the attack in Syria.

Iran has engaged in a series of ship seizures since 2019, and attacks on ships have been attributed to it amid ongoing tensions with the West over its rapidly advancing nuclear program.

In previous ship seizures, Iran provided initial explanations for its operations to make it appear that the attacks had nothing to do with broader geopolitical tensions – although it later acknowledged this. However, during Saturday’s attack, Iran offered no explanation other than saying the MSC Aries had ties to Israel.

In the past, Iran has largely avoided directly attacking Israel, although it has carried out targeted assassinations of nuclear scientists and sabotage campaigns against Iranian nuclear sites. Iran has targeted Israeli or Jewish-related sites through mandated forces.

Earlier this week, Guard General Ali Reza Tangsiri, who oversees Iran’s naval forces, criticized the Israeli presence in the region, including in the United Arab Emirates. The United Arab Emirates reached a diplomatic recognition deal with Israel in 2020, angering Tehran.

“We know that bringing the Zionists to this point is not just for economic work,” Tangsiri was quoted as saying. “Now they actually carry out security and military tasks. This is a threat and it should not happen.

Tension could also be felt in Iran on Saturday, where officials publicly denied false messages sent in the name of civil protection authorities. These messages urged the public to “prepare drinking water and dry food” in the face of the “emerging emergency” facing the country.

The United States, Israel’s main supporter, has stood by the country despite growing concerns over Israel’s war on Gaza, killing more than 33,600 Palestinians and injuring more than 76,200 others. Israel’s war began after Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7, which killed 1,200 people and took some 250 hostage.

On Friday, President Joe Biden warned Iran not to attack Israel. “We will help defend Israel, and Iran will not succeed,” Biden added.

The Gulf of Oman lies close to the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of all oil traded globally passes. Fujairah, on the east coast of the United Arab Emirates, is a main port for ships to take on new oil cargoes, pick up supplies or exchange crews. Since 2019, the waters off Fujairah have been the scene of a series of explosions and hijackings.

At the same time, the Lufthansa group extended the suspension of flights between Frankfurt and Tehran on Saturday until Thursday and declared that its planes would avoid Iranian airspace. The German carrier also said that, until at least Tuesday, flights to and from Amman would be operated as “day flights”, so that crews would not spend a night in the Jordanian capital.

Dutch airline KLM announced that it would no longer fly over Iran or Israel, but would continue flights to and from Tel Aviv.


Associated Press writers Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, Krutika Pathi in New Delhi, Stephen Graham in Berlin and Thomas Adamson in Paris contributed to this report.

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