Tensions soar as Iran seizes container ship linked to Israel


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Iran seized a container ship linked to Israel on Saturday, as tensions in the Middle East soar. 

Commandos from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) rappeled down from a helicopter on the ship in the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran’s Tasnim News Agency, which is linked to the IRGC, reported the MSC Aries is associated with London-based Zodiac Maritime, part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group.

The ship was last located off Dubai heading toward the Strait of Hormuz on Friday. 

It had turned off its tracking data, which has been common for Israeli-affiliated ships moving through the region, the AP news agency reported.

Iranian authorities have not yet commented on the incident. 

Video of the seizure obtained by AP shows a Soviet-era Mil Mi-17 helicopter, which both the IRGC and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels of Yemen have used in the past to conduct commando raids on ships.

The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations said the vessel was “seized by regional authorities” in the Gulf of Oman off the Emirati port city of Fujairah. 

It did not elaborate further.

The Middle East had braced for potential retaliation by Tehran after a suspected Israeli strike earlier this month on an Iranian consular building in Syria that killed 12 people.

A senior IRGC general who once commanded its expeditionary Quds Force was among the dead. 

Israel’s devastating war against Hamas in Gaza has sent long-running tensions in the region skyrocketing. 

Tehran supports the Palestinian cause and has used its proxy forces in Lebanon and Yemen to attack Israel. 

Iran since 2019 has engaged in a series of ship seizures and attacks amid ongoing tensions with the West over its rapidly advancing nuclear programme.

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 the 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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