DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (UAE) – An Iranian cargo ship believed to be a base for the Revolutionary Guards paramilitary and anchored for years in the Red Sea off Yemen has been attacked, Tehran admitted on Wednesday.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry has confirmed the attack on MV Saviz, which is suspected to have been carried out by Israel. The attack came as Iran and world powers sat in Vienna for the first talks on the United States, which would eventually join Tehran’s fragmented nuclear deal, showing that the challenges ahead are not based on those talks alone.
Iran has previously described Saviz as an assistant in efforts to “fight piracy” in the Red Sea and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a crucial stifling point in international transport. A statement attributed to Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Hatibzade described the ship as a merchant ship.
“Fortunately, no casualties have been reported … and technical investigations are under way,” Hatibzadeh said. “Our country will take all necessary measures through international authorities.”
In an earlier statement on state television, a presenter quoted a New York Times story as quoting an anonymous U.S. official who told the newspaper that Israel had informed America that it had carried out an attack on the ship Tuesday morning. Israeli authorities declined to comment on the incident when they reached the Associated Press, as did the owner of Saviz.
However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised Iran in a speech to his Likud party on Tuesday after being asked to form a government following the country’s recent elections.
“We must not return to the dangerous nuclear deal with Iran, because nuclear Iran is an existential threat to the state of Israel and a great threat to the security of the whole world,” Netanyahu said.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the Vienna talks “successful” as he addressed his cabinet on Wednesday.
“A joint statement is being heard today that all parties to the nuclear deal have concluded that there is no better solution than the deal,” he said.
Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency, believed to be close to the guard, has blamed the blast on Saviz’s corps. It did not blame anyone for the attack and said Iranian authorities were likely to offer more information in the coming days.
In a statement, the US Army Central Command said only that it was “aware of media reports of an incident with Saviz in the Red Sea.”
“We can confirm that no American forces were involved in the incident,” the command said. “We have no additional information to provide.”
Saviz, owned by state-owned shipping lines of the Islamic Republic of Iran, came to the Red Sea in late 2016, according to ship tracking data. In the years that followed, he strayed from the Dahlak archipelago, a chain of islands off the coast of the nearby African country of Eritrea in the Red Sea. He probably received a supply refill and changed the crew by crossing Iranian ships on the waterway.
Briefings from the Saudi military, received earlier by the AP, showed men on the ship dressed in camouflage, military-style clothing, as well as small boats capable of transporting cargo to the coast of Yemen. The briefing also included photos showing various antennas of the vessel, which the Saudi government described as unusual for a merchant cargo ship, assuming it was conducting electronic surveillance. Other images show that the ship had .50 caliber machine gun racks.
The Washington-based Middle East Policy Institute called Saviz “Iranian motherhood” in the region, while describing it as a base for gathering intelligence and weapons for the guard. Documents from the institute do not explain how they came to this conclusion, although its analysts usually have access to military sources in the Persian Gulf and Israel.
Saviz was under international sanctions until Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2015, in which Tehran received economic relief in exchange for limiting uranium enrichment. The Trump administration later renewed US sanctions against Saviz as part of its decision to unilaterally withdraw from the agreement.
In June 2019, Saudi Arabia flew a seriously ill Iranian from Saviz after Tehran asked the UN for help.
Amid wider tensions between the United States and Iran, a series of mysterious bombings have targeted ships in the region, including some U.S. navies blamed on Iran. Among the recently damaged ships was an Israeli car carrier in an attack that Netanyahu blamed on Iran. Another was an Iranian cargo ship in the Mediterranean.
Iran has also blamed Israel for the recent series of attacks, including a mysterious explosion in July that destroyed a modern centrifuge assembly plant at the Natanz nuclear facility. Another is the November assassination of Mohsen Fahrizade, a leading Iranian scientist who founded the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program two decades ago.
Associated Press reporters Nasser Karimi and Mehdi Fatahi of Tehran, Iran, contributed to the report.
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