Israel Views Iran as the Likely Attacker in Car Carrier Explosion

iran attack boats
Iranian attack boats (file image courtesy Iranian state media / CC BY SA 4.0)

Published Mar 1, 2021 2:54 AM by The Maritime Executive

The blast-damaged ro/ro Helios Ray has arrived at Dubai's Port Rashid, awaiting repairs and a thorough examination by security experts. 

On February 25, the Bahamian-flagged car carrier Helios Ray was transiting the Gulf of Oman about 45 nm northwest of Muscat when she experienced a series of explosions. The vessel had departed Dammam, Saudi Arabia on February 24 and and was bound for Singapore. 

The vessel is owned by Israeli businessman Abraham Ungar, one of Israel’s largest motor vehicle importers. In an interview with Ynet, Ungar confirmed the details of the incident but said it was unknown if the vessel was hit by a missile or mine. “I do not think this is an intentional attack on an Israeli-owned ship,” Ungar told the outlet.

On Saturday, American defense officials told media that Helios Ray has four blast holes - two on her port side and two on her starboard side, all just above the waterline. The type of weapon and the perpetrator are not yet known, though Israeli media has carried accounts suggesting either limpet mines or missiles. 

All eyes have turned to Iran, which was widely accused of carrying out a series of limpet mine attacks in the Gulf of Oman in 2019. Israeli defense officials have suggested that Tehran bears responsibility for the latest attack as well. 

"Just over the weekend we got a reminder . . . of one of the greatest threats in the region, Iran, and we got a reminder that Iran not only is a nuclear threat, but that it spreads and carries out terror and operations against civilian targets," said Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi. "The IDF acts and will act against the threats that endanger [Israel], near and far."

"The Iranians are looking to harm Israelis and Israeli infrastructure. The proximity to Iran leads to the assessment that there is a likelihood that this is an Iranian initiative," said Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Saturday. "We need to continue investigating."

On Monday, Israeli Prime MInister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed more certainty about Iran's role. “It is indeed an Iranian act, that’s clear,” he told public broadcaster Kan. “Iran is Israel’s greatest enemy . . . we’re striking at it throughout the region. 

The incident occurred as Iran and the United States were contemplating a series of talks on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) - the Obama-era "nuclear deal" that saw U.S. sanctions eased in exchange for a halt to Iran's nuclear program. The Trump administration ended participation in the JCPOA and reimposed sweeping sanctions on transactions with Iran, effectively ending most Western participation in the Iranian economy. The Biden administration has expressed openness to talks with Tehran about easing sanctions once more, but only if Iran first returns to its previous nuclear commitments under the JCPOA. Tehran declined an offer for mediated talks on Sunday, saying that it "does not consider the time suitable."