Iran rejected Israel’s claim of guiding Houthi rebels in seizing an Israeli ship in the Red Sea on Sunday, dismissing the allegations as “invalid.”

The Iran-backed rebels in Yemen seized the Galaxy Leader on Sunday, days after they threatened to target Israeli vessels in the waterway over Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the ship “was hijacked with Iran’s guidance by the Yemenite Houthi militia.”

On Monday, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said the Israeli accusations were “invalid” and “meant to escape from the situation Israel is facing.” “We have repeatedly announced that the resistance groups in the region represent their countries and make decisions and act based on the interests of their countries,” he said. “The Zionist regime (Israel) cannot accept that it suffered a major defeat in Palestine and wants to find a justification for the defeat it suffered by accusing the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Kanani added.

Maritime security company Ambrey said the vessel’s “group owner is listed as Ray Car Carriers”, whose parent company belongs to Abraham “Rami” Ungar, an Israeli businessman.

Iran, which supports Hamas financially and militarily, has hailed the October 7 attacks as a “success” but denied any direct involvement.

It has repeatedly warned of a widening conflict, and earlier this month, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said the intensity of the war has rendered its expansion “inevitable”.

The United States has sent two aircraft carrier groups to the eastern Mediterranean as part of efforts it says aim to deter a wider war.

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi has said Iran sees it as “its duty to support the resistance groups” but insisted that they “are independent in their opinion, decisions, and action”.

Miroslava Salazar, with AFP