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An Iranian missile system is displayed during an unveiling ceremony at a naval base in the south of Iran at the port of Konarak, in this handout image obtained on December 24, 2023. Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: The US accused Iran of being behind an attack on a tanker in the Indian Ocean as the threat to shipping triggered by Israel’s war with Hamas spread beyond the Red Sea.

Iran fired a one-way drone that struck the Chem Pluto “a Liberia-flagged, Japanese-owned and Netherlands-operated chemical tanker” on Saturday about 200 nautical miles from the coast of India, according to a Pentagon statement. There were no casualties.

The latest accusations are increasing tensions with Iran, which the US has previously blamed for being behind a series of attacks on ships in the Red Sea by Al Houthi militants in Yemen. Those attacks, which Al Houthis say will continue until Israel ends the war in Gaza, have caused chaos in an area that accounts for some 12 per cent of global maritime trade.

The world’s major container and oil shippers have been rerouting vessels away from the waterway, with the strikes roiling shipping markets and pushing up oil prices across the world. They have also prompted the US to form a naval coalition to protect traffic in the Red Sea.

Iran denies

The White House, citing newly released intelligence, said on Friday that Iran was “deeply involved” in the planning of the Houthi attacks and has supplied weapons, financial support and training. Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian denied that his country is helping the Houthi rebels, but threatened that the waterway won’t be safe as long as Israel maintains its offensive in Gaza.

“The accusation is baseless,” Amir-Abdollahian said in a news conference in Tehran cited by state television Saturday. The attacks are “a completely Yemeni decision in support and defense of Gaza,” he said.

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UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron has joined the US in accusing Tehran of organising Houthis’ attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea and for the subsequent major disruption to supply chains across Europe. He described the Houthis as an Iranian “proxy” alongside Hamas, Hezbollah and militias in Iraq.

“Iran is a thoroughly malign influence in the region and in the world. There’s no doubt about that. You’ve got the Houthis, you’ve got Hezbollah, you’ve got the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq that have actually been attacking British and American bases, troops. And, of course, Hamas,” he said in an interview published Sunday.

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A missile unveiled by Iran is launched in an unknown location in Iran in this picture received by Reuters on August 20, 2020. Image Credit: Reuters

Iran navy receives new cruise missiles

The Iranian navy, meanwhile, has taken delivery of cruise missiles with a range of 1,000km (621 miles) as well as reconnaissance helicopters, state media reported on Sunday.

“The Talaeiyeh cruise missile has a range of over 1,000km and is a smart missile that can change targets mid-mission,” state media cited the head of Iran’s navy, Shahram Irani, as saying.

Reconnaissance helicopters, drones and marine cruise missiles were among new weapons added to the navy’s arsenal, Irani said, adding that “all of this equipment has been designed and produced by Iran’s military industry”.

Although Western military analysts say Iran sometimes exaggerates its capabilities, Iranian-made missiles and drones are a key element in Tehran’s military hardware.

The US Department of Defence said on Saturday that a drone sent from Iran struck a Liberian-flagged chemical tanker in the Indian ocean, an incident highlighting rising regional tensions and a new risk to shipping lanes in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel and Israel’s subsequent action in Gaza.