DUBAI: This picture taken yesterday shows the Israeli-owned Bahamian-flagged MV Helios Ray cargo ship docked at Mina Rashid cruise terminal. - AFP

TEHRAN: The "resistance axis" of Tehran and its regional allies may have been behind an explosion that hit an Israeli-owned "spy" vessel four days ago, an ultraconservative Iranian newspaper said yesterday. The MV Helios Ray, a vehicle carrier, was travelling from the Saudi port of Dammam to Singapore when the blast occurred on Thursday, according to the London-based Dryad Global maritime security group.

Citing unnamed "military experts", Kayhan, Iran's leading ultraconservative daily, wrote in a front-page report that "the targeted ship in the Gulf of Oman is a military ship belonging to the Israeli army". It was "gathering information about the (Arabian) Gulf and the Sea of Oman" when it was targeted, the newspaper said. "This spy ship, although it was sailing secretly, may have fallen into the ambush of one of the branches of the resistance axis," it added, without offering further details.

The term "resistance axis" usually refers to the Islamic republic and its allied forces in the region. Israel's defense minister Benny Gantz said on Saturday that the Jewish state's "initial assessment" is that Iran is responsible for the explosion aboard the vessel. "This... takes into account the proximity (with Iran) and the context" in which the blast occurred, he added. "This is what I believe."

Rami Ungar, an Israeli businessman who owns the Helios Ray, told Israeli state television Kan on Friday that the explosion caused "two holes about a meter and a half in diameter". It was "not yet clear" if the damage was caused by missiles or mines attached to the ship, Ungar added. He said that the explosion did not cause any casualties among the crew or damage to the engine.

Israel has long accused arch-foe Iran of trying to acquire nuclear weapons, a charge always denied by Tehran. Iran blamed the Nov 27 assassination outside Tehran of its top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh on the Jewish state. "The Zionist regime's attacks and crimes in the region, which have been going on publicly for some time, seem to have finally made it a legitimate target," Kayhan said.

The US and Saudi Arabia in mid-2019 alleged Iran used limpet mines to blow holes in Gulf-area ships, and then US president Donald Trump came close to ordering an attack on Iran in retaliation. Tehran strongly denied those allegations. - AFP