An Iranian military vessel 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 the two adversaries’ exchanges 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 reactivate US involvement in the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major world powers. Israel, which views Iran as its most potent enemy, strongly opposes the restoration of that agreement, which was abandoned by the Trump administration three years ago.
Several Iranian media outlets showed images of flames and smoke billowing from a wrecked ship in the Red Sea, but the full extent of the damage or the casualties is unknown.
The 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 Guard Corps said the ship had been deployed in the Red Sea for some time to combat pirates. The Tasnim news agency, the Revolutionary Guard media outlet, said the Saviz had been damaged by a mine that had attached itself to the ship.
There was no official Iranian confirmation of the attack until Tuesday night, but several Telegram social media channels operated by members of the Revolutionary Guard blamed Israel for the blast.
Israeli officials had not commented as of Tuesday night and, as a matter of policy, they rarely confirm or deny responsibility for actions taken against Iran. But a US official said the Israelis had notified the United States that its forces had attacked the ship around 7:30 am local time.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to share private intelligence communications, said the Israelis had called the attack retaliation for previous Iranian attacks on Israeli vessels, and that the Saviz had been damaged below the waterline. . The precise location of the ship in the Red Sea was not immediately clear.
The skirmishes have raged for two years, but previously they had involved a different kind of target. Since 2019, Israel has attacked commercial ships carrying Iranian oil and weapons across the eastern Mediterranean and the Red Seas, a new sea front in a shadow regional war that had previously unfolded by land and air.
The US official said the attack may have been delayed to allow Dwight D. Eisenhower, a US aircraft carrier in the area, to put some distance between it 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 that claimed the Saviz was a covert military ship operated by the Revolutionary Guard. The report said there were uniformed men on board and that on the deck of the ship was a type of ship used by the Revolutionary Guards, with a hull similar to that of a Boston Whaler.
Iran has participated in its own clandestine 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 effort to curb Iran’s military influence in the Middle East and to hamper Iranian efforts to circumvent US sanctions on its oil industry.