An Iranian military vessel stationed in the Red Sea was damaged by an apparent Israeli mine attack on Tuesday in an escalation of the shady naval ship that has characterized the two opponents’ exchanges in recent years.
The damage to the ship, which Iranian media identified as Saviz, came as progress was reported on the first day of negotiations to revive US participation in the nuclear deal between Iran and the major world powers in 2015. Israel, which considers Iran its most potent enemy, is strongly opposed to a restoration of the agreement, which was abandoned by the Trump administration three years ago.
Saviz, although technically classified as a cargo ship, was the first ship deployed for military use known to have been attacked in the Israeli-Iranian skirmishes.
A social media account from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps said the ship had been deployed in the Red Sea for some time to fight pirates. The news agency Tasnim, the media from the Revolutionary Guards, said Saviz had been damaged by a mine attached to the ship.
There was no official Iranian confirmation of the attack from Tuesday night, but several Telegram social media channels operated by members of the Revolutionary Guards blamed Israel for the explosion.
Israeli officials had not commented on Tuesday night, and as a matter of policy, they rarely confirm or deny responsibility for actions against Iran. But a US official said the Israelis had informed the United States that its forces had hit the ship around noon. 7.30 local time.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to share private intelligence communications, said the Israelis had called the attack in retaliation for previous Iranian attacks on Israeli ships and that Saviz had been damaged below the waterline. The exact location of the ship in the Red Sea was not immediately clear.
Skirmishes have been going on for two years, but have previously involved a different kind of goal. Since 2019, Israel has attacked commercial ships carrying Iranian oil and weapons through the eastern Mediterranean and the Red Sea, a new maritime front in a regional shadow war that had previously played out of land and air.
The US official said it was possible the attack was delayed to allow Dwight D. Eisenhower, a US aircraft carrier in the area, to put some distance between himself and Saviz. Eisenhower was about 200 miles away when Saviz was hit, the official said.
The US Naval Institute published a report in October 2020 claiming that the Saviz was a covert military ship operated by the Revolutionary Guards. The report said that uniformed men were present on board and that a type of boat used by the Revolutionary Guards, with a hull similar to a Boston Whaler, was on the deck of the ship.
Iran has participated in its own secret attacks. The latter was reported on March 25, when an Israeli-owned container ship, the Lori, was hit by an Iranian missile in the Arabian Sea, an Israeli official said. No injuries or significant damage were reported.
The Israeli campaign is part of Israel’s efforts to curb Iran’s military influence in the Middle East and thwart Iran’s efforts to circumvent US sanctions against its oil industry.