Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Israeli-Iranian Naval Conflict Escalates

The Associated Press reports that "[a]n Iranian ship believed to be a base for the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and anchored for years in the Red Sea off Yemen has been attacked, Tehran acknowledged Wednesday." "Iran’s semiofficial Tasnim news agency, believed to be close to the Guard, reported that a limpet mine planted on Saviz’s hull caused the blast," the article further reported. 

    How long was the Saviz anchored there? According to Haaretz, "[t]he Saviz, owned by the state-linked Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, came to the Red Sea in late 2016, according to ship-tracking data. In the years since, it has drifted off the Dahlak archipelago, a chain of islands off the coast of the nearby African nation of Eritrea in the Red Sea. It likely received supply replenishments and switched crew via passing Iranian vessels using the waterway."

    The New York Times adds: "The Saviz, technically classified as a cargo ship, was the first vessel deployed for military use that is known to have been attacked in the Israeli-Iranian skirmishes." The NY Times also related that: 

    Israeli officials had not commented as of Tuesday night, and as a matter of policy they seldom confirm or deny responsibility for actions taken against Iran. But an American official said the Israelis had notified the United States that its forces had struck the vessel at about 7:30 a.m. local time.

    The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share private intelligence communications, said that the Israelis had called the attack a retaliation for earlier Iranian strikes on Israeli vessels, and that the Saviz had been damaged below the water line. ...


    The skirmishes have gone on for two years but have previously involved a different sort of target. Since 2019, Israel has attacked commercial ships carrying Iranian oil and weapons through the eastern Mediterranean and Red Seas, a new maritime front in a regional shadow war that had previously played out by land and air.

    The American official said it was possible that the attack had been delayed to allow the Dwight D. Eisenhower, an American aircraft carrier in the area, to put some distance between itself and the Saviz. The Eisenhower was about 200 miles away when the Saviz was hit, the official said.

    The U.S. Naval Institute published a report in October 2020 that asserted the Saviz was a covert military ship operated by the Revolutionary Guards. The report said that uniformed men were present onboard and that a boat type used by the Revolutionary Guards, with a hull similar to a Boston Whaler, was on the ship’s deck.

    Iran has engaged in its own clandestine attacks. The last one 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 stymie Iranian efforts to circumvent American sanctions on its oil industry.

And from the Times of Israel:

    Israel and Iran have accused each other recently of attacking a number of merchant ships, damaging them with explosives. The vessels in each case were only lightly damaged and there were no injuries in the incidents.

    On February 26, a blast struck the Israeli-owned MV Helios Ray, a Bahamian-flagged cargo ship, in the Gulf of Oman. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran of attacking the ship. Iran swiftly denied the charge, but experts say the attack bears hallmarks of previous attacks ascribed to Tehran.

    The operation seemed to have been carefully planned, and mirrored a series of attacks on tankers in 2019 and an Iranian campaign against shipping vessels four decades ago.

    Another Israeli-owned vessel reportedly came under missile fire in the Gulf of Oman in late March, possibly by Iranian forces.

    The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Israel has targeted at least 12 ships bound for Syria, most of them transporting Iranian oil, with mines and other weapons.

    The alleged attacks mark a new front in the shadow war between Israel and Iran.

The attack came amid negotiations between the U.S. and Iran in Vienna to reestablish the nuclear deal arranged by the Obama Administration.

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