DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – An Iranian ship believed to be a base of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guards and anchored for years in the Red Sea off Yemen has been attacked, Tehran acknowledged on Wednesday.
Iran’s foreign ministry confirmed the attack on MV Saviz, suspected of being carried out by Israel – although Tehran did not immediately accuse its regional arch-enemy. The attack came as Iran and the world powers sat down in Vienna for the first talks on the United States, which could potentially join the divided deal aimed at curtailing Iran’s nuclear program and showing events outside the negotiations could derail this effort.
Iran previously described Saviz as aiding and abetting “anti-piracy” efforts in the Red Sea and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a crucial shock point in international shipping. A statement attributed to Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh described the ship as a commercial ship.
IRAN TANKERS WITH 3M BARRELS OF CRUDE OIL TO SYRIA, DEFINES US SANCTIONS
“Fortunately, no injuries were reported … and technical investigations are underway,” Khatibzadeh said. “Our country will take all necessary measures through international authorities.”
In an earlier state television statement, an anchor quoted a New York Times story quoting an anonymous U.S. official who told the newspaper that Israel informed America it was carrying out an attack Tuesday morning on the ship. Israeli officials declined to comment on the attack when The Associated Press reached out, as did Saviz’s owner.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz described Iran and its regional allies as a major threat, while refusing to say whether his country launched the attack.
“Israel must continue to defend itself,” Gantz told reporters. “Wherever we find an operational challenge and necessity, we will continue to act.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the Vienna talks a “success” as he addressed his cabinet on Wednesday.
“Today, a joint statement is heard stating that all sides of the nuclear deal have concluded that there is no better solution than the deal,” he said.
USA, IRAN ON BEGINNING OF INDIRECT NUCLEAR TALKS IN VIENNA
Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency, believed to be close to the guard, reported that a halt mine planted on Saviz’s hull caused the explosion. A limpet mine is a type of naval mine attached to the side of a ship, usually by a diver. It explodes later and can damage a vessel significantly. Iran did not accuse anyone of the attack, saying Iranian officials were likely to offer more information in the coming days.
In a statement, the U.S. military’s central command only said it was “aware of media coverage of an incident involving Saviz in the Red Sea.”
“We can confirm that no US forces were involved in the incident,” the command said. “We have no further information to provide.”
Saviz, owned by the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Rines, arrived in the Red Sea in late 2016, according to ship tracking data. In recent years, it has drifted away from the Dahlak Archipelago, a chain of islands off the African nation of Eritrea. It probably received supply replenishments and changed crews via passing Iranian ships using the waterway.
Briefing material from the Saudi military previously obtained by the AP showed men on the ship dressed in military-style fatigue as well as small boats capable of ferrying goods to the Yemeni coast. These materials also included images showing a series of antennas on the ship, which the Saudi government described as unusual for a commercial cargo ship, suggesting that it conducted electronic surveillance. Other images showed the ship had mounts for 50-caliber machine guns.
FIRST CHENEY ADVISOR: INVITED ADMIN ‘HELL-BENT’ TO REVIEW THE IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL
The Washington Institute for Near-East Policy has called Saviz an “Iranian mother ship” in the region and also describes it as an intelligence gathering base and a porch for the guard. Policy papers from the institute do not explain how they came to this conclusion, although its analysts routinely have access to Gulf and Israeli military sources.
Saviz had been under international sanctions until Iran’s nuclear deal with the world powers in 2015, which saw Tehran receive relief from the sanctions in exchange for limiting its enrichment of uranium. The Trump administration later renewed US sanctions against Saviz as part of its decision to unilaterally withdraw from the deal.
In June 2019, Saudi Arabia flew a critically ill Iranian out of Saviz after Tehran made a request to the United Nations for help.
Amid the wider tensions between the United States and Iran, a series of mysterious explosions have targeted ships in the region, including some blamed by the U.S. Navy on Iran. Among the ships recently damaged was an Israeli-owned car carrier in an attack that Netanyahu accused Iran of. Another was an Iranian cargo ship in the Mediterranean.
CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP
Iran has also blamed Israel for a recent series of attacks, including a mysterious explosion in July that destroyed an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at its Natanz nuclear plant. Another is the assassination in November of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top Iranian scientist who founded the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program two decades ago.