An Iranian ship that US officials believe is used for covert military purposes was attacked off the coast of Yemen, Iran’s Foreign Ministry confirmed Wednesday. The incident occurred the same day Iranian officials met with parties to the nuclear agreement in Vienna.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had been using the Saviz for intelligence collection since 2017, US officials told The Wall Street Journal. The vessel is classified by Iran as a cargo ship, but imagery from ship-tracking websites reportedly shows surveillance equipment on the Saviz.
The Saviz is based in the southern Red Sea near Yemen’s western coast. Iran is supporting the Houthi rebels, who overran parts of Yemen in 2014 and are now fighting a Saudi-led military coalition that intervened the next year to restore the internationally recognized Yemeni government.
Iran’s semiofficial Tasnim news agency reported that Tuesday’s attack had been caused by a limpet mine were attached to the ship’s hull.
The outlet quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh as saying the Saviz suffered minor damage from the explosions and an investigation is underway.
Iran has yet to assign blame for the attack, and a Pentagon spokesperson said the United States was aware of the incident, but not involved.
The New York Times cited an unnamed American official who said Israel had notified the United States that Israeli forces had attacked the Iranian ship around 7:30 a.m. local time Tuesday, damaging the Saviz below the water line. According to the US official, the attack was meant as retaliation for previous Iranian strikes on Israel ships.
In late March, the Israeli-owned container ship LORI was hit by a missile in the Arabian Sea in what Israeli officials said was an Iranian attack. In February, the Israeli-owned MV Helios Ray vehicle carrier was struck in the Gulf of Oman by what the ship’s owner said was likely a missile or mines.
Tehran denied responsibility for either incident.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz didn’t deny that Israel was behind the latest attack on its adversary, instead telling reporters Wednesday, “Israel must continue to defend itself.”
“Any place we find an operational challenge and necessity, we will continue to act,” he said.
The Wall Street Journal reported in March that Israel has struck at least a dozen Iranian vessels carrying oil to Syria since late 2019. A follow-up investigation by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz revealed there were dozens of attacks on Iranian oil tankers that have caused Iran cumulative damage in the billions of dollars.
Both Israel and the United States were suspected of involvement in a series of unexplained explosions last summer targeting civilian and military sites across Iran. Israel was also blamed in the November 2020 assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
The attack on the Saviz came as representatives from Iran and the remaining parties to the landmark 2015 nuclear accord — Russia, China, Germany, France and Britain — met in Vienna for talks over reviving the deal, with US officials also huddling in the city. President Joe Biden has pledged to reenter the agreement his predecessor withdrew from, but only if Iran rolls back its nuclear breaches. Tehran insists the United States make the first move and lift all sanctions imposed under the previous administration.