The maritime special forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, the ideological army of the Islamic Republic of Iran, seized a container ship “linked” to Israel in the Gulf, the official IRNA agency announced on Saturday April 13. This seizure took place “near the Strait of Hormuz,” IRNA said, adding that the ship, the MSC Aries, “managed by the Zodiac company, which belongs to the Zionist capitalist Eyal Ofer,” was in the process of being “directed towards Iranian territorial waters.” “There are twenty-five crew members on board,” according to Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), which charters the vessel.

Iran recently promised to “punish” Israel after a deadly strike on April 1 on its consulate in Damascus (Syria), which it blames on it.

Iran “will suffer the consequences of its choice to further aggravate the situation”, reacted the Israeli army, while the Hebrew state is on alert in the face of threats of reprisals from Tehran, ally of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas. “We have strengthened our preparation to protect Israel from further Iranian aggression. We are also ready to react,” assured Daniel Hagari, spokesperson for the Israeli army.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz, for his part, called on countries to include the guard on the list of terrorist organizations and estimated on the X network that Iran “is a criminal regime that supports the crimes of Hamas and which is currently carrying out a pirate operation in violation of international law.”

In a statement, the White House called on Iran to “immediately” release the MSC Aries and its crew. She “strongly” condemned “an act of piracy”. The United States has also reaffirmed its “unwavering commitment” to Israel, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan wrote on X. In this context of heightened tensions between the Jewish state and the Islamic Republic, American President Joe Biden “returned to the White House [Saturday]” for urgent consultations with his national security team, cutting short a weekend at his family home.

Lufthansa suspends flights to and from Tehran

The seizure of the container ship by “regional authorities” took place 50 nautical miles (92 kilometers) northeast of Foujeyra, United Arab Emirates, according to the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Authority (UKMTO).

A Middle Eastern defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, provided video of the attack to the Associated Press (AP). The news agency saw the Iranian commandos rappelling from a helicopter onto a stack of containers on the deck of the ship. According to AP, the helicopter used appears to be a Soviet-era Mil Mi-17, which Yemen’s Iranian-backed Guard and Houthis have used in the past to carry out commando raids on ships.

Contacted by AP, Zodiac declined to comment and referred questions to MSC. The MSC Aries was last located off the coast of Dubai on Friday, heading towards the Strait of Hormuz. The ship had its tracking data disabled, which is common for Israeli-affiliated vessels passing through the region.

Fears of a regional conflagration pushed the Netherlands to close its embassy in Iran on Saturday. Several countries, including France, Germany and the United States, have also reiterated their calls on their nationals not to travel to this country. Jordan, for its part, reported having temporarily closed its airspace in the face of “rising dangers” in the Middle East. The German company Lufthansa announced on Friday that it would suspend its flights to and from Tehran until April 18.

The Houthis, Yemeni rebels supported by Iran, have been attacking ships in the Red Sea for months, thus affirming their support for Hamas. These attacks are disrupting global shipping, forcing companies to choose longer and more expensive voyages that bypass southern Africa. They also fuel fears of an extension of the war between Israel and Hamas throughout the Middle East. The United States and the United Kingdom carried out strikes against Houthi targets in response to these attacks.