An Iranian freighter believed to be a base for the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and anchored for years in the Red Sea off Yemen has been attacked, Iranian state television acknowledged.
The recognition by state television, which quotes foreign media, marks the first Iranian comment on Tuesday’s mysterious incident involving MV Saviz, allegedly carried out by Israel.
The attack came as Iran and world powers sat down in Vienna for the first talks on the possible reincorporation of the United States into the 2015 nuclear deal.
The ship’s long presence in the region has been repeatedly criticized by Saudi Arabia. Western and UN experts say Iran has provided weapons and support to Yemen’s Houthi rebels. Iran denies having armed the Houthis, although the components found in the rebels’ weapons link with Tehran.
Iran previously described Saviz as a collaborator in “anti-piracy” efforts in the Red Sea and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a crucial choke point in international shipping.
In the state television statement, one host quoted a New York Times story, quoting an anonymous US official telling the newspaper that Israel had informed the United States that it attacked the ship Tuesday morning.
Israeli officials declined to comment on the incident, as did the owner of the Saviz.
Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency, believed to be close to the Guard, reported the attack late Tuesday, saying explosives planted in the Saviz’s hull had exploded. He did not blame anyone for the attack and said Iranian officials would likely offer more information in the coming days.
In a statement, the US Army Central Command said only that it was “aware of media reports of an incident involving the Saviz in the Red Sea.”
“We can confirm that no American forces were involved in the incident,” the command said. “We have no additional information to provide.”
The Saviz, owned by the state shipping company of the Islamic Republic of Iran, reached the Red Sea in late 2016, according to ship tracking data. In the years since, it has drifted away from the Dahlak Archipelago, a chain of islands off the coast of nearby Eritrea in the Red Sea. It probably received resupply of supplies and changed crews via Iranian vessels passing through the waterway.
Informational materials from the Saudi Army previously obtained by AP showed men on the ship dressed in military-style work uniforms and a variety of antennas on the ship that the Saudi government described as unusual for a commercial cargo ship, suggesting that conducted electronic surveillance. Other images showed that the ship had mounts for .50 caliber machine guns.
The Saviz had been under international sanctions until Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, under which Tehran received economic relief in exchange for limiting its uranium enrichment. Later, the Trump administration renewed U.S. sanctions on Saviz as part of its decision to unilaterally withdraw from the deal.
Amid the broader tensions between the United States and Iran, a series of mysterious explosions have targeted ships in the region, including some that the US navy blamed Iran. Among the recently damaged ships was an Israeli-owned aircraft carrier in an attack that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed on Iran. Another was an Iranian freighter in the Mediterranean.
Iran also blamed Israel for a recent series of attacks, including a mysterious explosion in July that destroyed an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at its Natanz nuclear facility. Another is the November assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a prominent Iranian scientist who founded the country’s military nuclear program two decades ago.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism