DUBAI: This picture taken on Sunday shows a view of the Israeli-owned Bahamian-flagged MV Helios Ray cargo ship docked in Dubai's Mina Rashid (Port Rashid) cruise terminal. The MV Helios Ray, a vehicle carrier, was travelling from the Saudi port of Dammam to Singapore when a blast occurred on February 25, according to the London-based Dryad Global maritime security group. - AFP

JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday accused Iran of a recent attack on an Israeli-owned ship, noting his country was regularly "striking" its arch-foe in comments that followed an overnight raid on Syria. Iran has denied any role in the explosion last Thursday that hit the MV Helios Ray in the Gulf of Oman, leaving two holes in its side but causing no casualties.

The latest escalation between the sides came as the international community has been trying to salvage the troubled 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. "It is indeed an Iranian act, that's clear," Netanyahu told public broadcaster Kan. "As for a reaction-you know my policy," he continued. "Iran is Israel's greatest enemy, I'm determined to block it, we're striking at it throughout the region." Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh responded swiftly to dismiss Netanyahu's claims. "We strongly deny this accusation," Khatibzadeh told reporters, adding that "the source of this accusation itself shows how invalid (the claim) is."

Syria strikes

Netanyahu's remarks came hours after Syrian air defenses intercepted what they said were Israeli missiles over Damascus. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the strike hit the area of Sayyida Zeinab south of Damascus, where Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Lebanese Hezbollah forces are reported to be present.

There was no immediate report of casualties. The Israeli army refused to confirm its involvement in the attack. It was not clear what caused the blast on the Helios Ray, a vehicle carrier travelling from the Saudi port of Dammam to Singapore, which punctured the boat's hull but did not cause any casualties among the crew or damage to the engine.

Israel has long accused Iran of trying to acquire nuclear weapons, a charge always denied by Tehran. Following the election of US President Joe Biden, Washington, the European parties to the deal-France, Germany and Britain-and Tehran have been trying to salvage the troubled 2015 nuclear accord, which granted Iran international sanctions relief in return for restrictions on its nuclear program.

The accord has been nearing collapse since former president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions as part of a "maximum pressure" campaign against Tehran. On Sunday, Iran dismissed a European offer for an informal meeting involving the US. In his remarks on Monday, Netanyahu reiterated the Israeli line that it was his country's top priority that "Iran won't have nuclear weapons, with or without an agreement". "That's what I also told my friend President Biden," the Israeli leader added.

Critics have questioned if Netanyahu, who supported Trump's move to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, would be able to coordinate the Israeli position on the volatile issue with Biden. Biden entered office declaring that he wants to return to the deal in some form, calling Trump's policy on Iran a failure. - AFP