Iran seizes ship linked to Israeli billionaire in latest escalation of tensions

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EARLIER: Iranian authorities seized an alleged Israeli-linked cargo ship near the Strait of Hormuz on Saturday morning, in the latest escalation of tensions between the two countries, amid concerns of an Iranian attack in response to an airstrike on an Iranian embassy earlier this month.
Mideast Tensions

This image made from a video provided to The Associated Press by a Mideast defense official shows a helicopter raid targeting a vessel near the Strait of Hormuz on Saturday, April 13, 2024. (AP Photo)

Key Takeaways
  • The seizure was first reported by the Iranian state-run Islamic Republic News Agency, which identified the ship as the MSC Aries, affiliated with Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer, chair of the Zodiac Group.
  • Sharing a video of the incident on X, formerly Twitter, the news agency claimed Iranian forces conducted a helicopter operation to guide the ship to Iranian waters while carrying out an “evacuation of personnel.”
  • Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz subsequently claimed Iran had seized “a Portuguese civilian cargo ship, belonging to an EU member, claiming Israeli ownership,” and he accused Iran of “conducting a pirate operation in violation of international law.”
  • Katz called on the European Union “and the free world” to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps—which was reportedly behind the seizure—“a terrorist organisation,” and to impose sanctions on Iran.
  • Zodiac Maritime said the ship’s title is held by Gortal Shipping, which is affiliated with Zodiac, but deferred questions to Swiss shipping company MSC, which Zodiac said is the ship’s manager and is responsible for all vessel operations.
  • In a statement to Forbes, MSC confirmed the incident and said there were 25 crew members onboard the ship, adding: “We are working closely with the relevant authorities to ensure their wellbeing, and safe return of the vessel.”
Key Background

Israel and Iran have been on edge for days, following the bombing of an Iranian embassy in Syria that killed seven Iranian military officials. Israel has not claimed responsibility for the attack.

Iran has since made public statements vowing a response—at times implicating the U.S. and raising concerns about a broader escalation of tensions in the Middle East beyond amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. U.S. officials now say they believe an Iranian attack is imminent, and multiple reports suggest Iran’s targets will be based in Israel.

Tangent

President Joe Biden said Friday he expects Iran to attack Israel “sooner rather than later,” and when asked about his message to Iran, he offered a frank, one word reply: “Don’t.”

Forbes Valuation

We estimate the net worth of Eyal Ofer, the owner of the Zodiac group, at $24 billion, making him the 83rd-richest person in the world.

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