An Iranian military ship stationed in the Red Sea was damaged by an apparent Israeli mine attack on Tuesday in an escalation of the grim naval skirmish that has characterized exchanges between the two adversaries in recent years.
The damage to the ship, which Iranian media identified as the Saviz, came as progress was reported on the first day of talks to revive US participation in the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major world powers . Israel, which views Iran as its most powerful enemy, strongly opposes reinstating the deal, which was scrapped by the Trump administration three years ago.
Several Iranian media outlets showed footage of flames and smoke billowing from a stranded ship in the Red Sea, but the extent of the damage or casualties was unclear.
The Saviz, although technically classified as a freighter, was the first military-deployed ship known to have been attacked in the Israeli-Iranian skirmishes.
An Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps social media account said the ship had been deployed in the Red Sea for some time to fight pirates. The Revolutionary Guard media outlet, Tasnim News Agency, said the Saviz was damaged by a mine attached to the ship.
There had been no official confirmation of the attack by Iran on Tuesday evening, but several Telegram social media channels operated by members of the Revolutionary Guards accused Israel of the explosion.
Israeli officials had not commented on Tuesday evening and, as a matter of principle, they rarely confirm or deny responsibility for the measures taken against Iran. But a US official said the Israelis informed the United States that their forces struck the ship around 7:30 a.m. local time.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to share private intelligence communications, said the Israelis called the attack retaliation for previous Iranian strikes on Israeli ships and that the Saviz was damaged below the line. of flotation. The ship’s precise location in the Red Sea was not immediately clear.
The skirmishes have been going on for two years, but previously involved a different type of target. Since 2019, Israel has attacked commercial ships carrying Iranian oil and weapons across the Eastern Mediterranean and Red Sea, a new maritime front in a regional shadow war that had previously been fought by land and air.
The US official said it was possible the attack was delayed to allow Dwight D. Eisenhower, an American aircraft carrier in the area, to put some distance between himself and the Saviz. The Eisenhower was about 200 miles away when the Saviz was hit, the official said.
The US Naval Institute released a report in October 2020 claiming the Saviz was a secret military vessel operated by the Revolutionary Guards. The report stated that men in uniform were present on board and that a type of boat used by the Revolutionary Guards, with a hull similar to that of a Boston Whaler, was on the ship’s deck.
Iran has engaged in its own covert attacks. The latest 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 casualties 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 Iranian efforts to circumvent US sanctions on its oil industry.