DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – An Iranian freighter believed to be a base for paramilitary Revolutionary Guards 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, suspected of having been perpetrated by Israel. The assault came as Iran and world powers sat in Vienna for the first talks on the potential US return to Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal, showing that the challenges ahead do not lie. only on these negotiations.
The ship’s long presence in the region, repeatedly criticized by Saudi Arabia, came as Western and United Nations experts claim Iran provided arms and support to Yemen’s Houthi rebels amid the crisis. the war that has been going on for years in this country. Iran denies arming the Houthis, although components found in the rebel weaponry are linked to Tehran.
Iran has previously described the Saviz as aiding “anti-piracy” efforts in the Red Sea and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a critical choke point in international shipping. A statement attributed to Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh described the vessel as a commercial vessel.
“Fortunately, no casualties have been reported … and technical investigations are ongoing,” Khatibzadeh said. “Our country will take all necessary measures through the international authorities.”
In a previous state television statement, a newscaster quoted a New York Times article, which quoted an unnamed U.S. official telling the newspaper that Israel informed America that it carried out an attack on Tuesday morning on the ship. Israeli officials declined to comment on the incident when contacted by The Associated Press, as did the owner of the Saviz.
However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to 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 go back to the dangerous nuclear deal with Iran, because a 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 “a success” when addressing his cabinet on Wednesday.
“Today we hear a joint statement 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, which is said to be close to the Guard, blamed the blast on explosives placed on Saviz’s hull. He blamed no one for the attack and said Iranian officials would likely offer more information in the days to come.
In a statement, the US Army Central Command only said it was “aware of media reports of an incident involving the Saviz in the Red Sea.”
“We can confirm that no American force was involved in the incident,” the command said. “We have no additional information to provide.”
The Saviz, owned by the state-linked Islamic Republic of Iran shipping company, arrived in the Red Sea in late 2016, according to vessel tracking data. In the years that followed, he drifted off the Dahlak Archipelago, a chain of islands off the coast of the neighboring African nation of Eritrea in the Red Sea. He likely received resupply and changed crew via Iranian ships passing through the waterway.
Saudi Army briefings previously obtained by the PA showed men aboard the ship dressed in camouflage, military-style fatigues, as well as small boats capable of carrying goods to the Yemeni coast. This briefing material also included footage showing a variety of antennas on the ship that the Saudi government described as unusual for a commercial freighter, suggesting it was carrying out electronic surveillance. Further footage showed the ship had mounts for .50 caliber machine guns.
The Washington Institute for Near-East Policy has called the Saviz an “Iranian mothership” in the region, similarly describing it as an intelligence gathering base and armory for the Guard. The institute’s policy documents do not explain how they came to this conclusion, although its analysts have regular access to Gulf and Israeli military sources.
The Saviz had been subject to international sanctions until Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which saw Tehran receive economic aid in exchange for limiting its uranium enrichment. The Trump administration subsequently renewed US sanctions against Saviz as part of its decision to unilaterally withdraw from the deal.
In June 2019, Saudi Arabia removed a critically ill Iranian from Saviz after Tehran requested assistance from the United Nations.
Amid the wider tensions between the United States and Iran, a series of mysterious explosions have targeted ships in the region, including some that the United States Navy blamed on Iran. Among the recently damaged ships was an Israeli-owned car transporter in an attack Netanyahu blamed on Iran. Another was an Iranian cargo ship in the Mediterranean Sea.
Iran has also blamed Israel for a recent round of attacks, including a mysterious explosion in July that destroyed a state-of-the-art centrifuge assembly plant at its Natanz nuclear facility. Another is the November murder of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a senior Iranian scientist who founded the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program two decades ago.
Associated Press journalists Nasser Karimi and Mehdi Fattahi in Tehran, Iran contributed to this report.
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