An Iranian military vessel stationed in the Red Sea was damaged by an apparent Israeli mine attack on Tuesday in an escalating shady naval clash that has characterized the exchange of two adversaries in recent years.
The damage to the ship, which Iranian news media identified as Saviz, was caused by a progress report on the first day of talks on reviving US participation in the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the major world powers. Israel, which Iran considers its most powerful enemy, is strongly opposed to renewing the agreement, which the Trump administration abandoned three years ago.
Several Iranian news outlets showed images of flames and smoke billowing from the affected ship in the Red Sea, but the full extent of the damage or any casualties was not clear.
Saviz, technically classified as a cargo ship, was the first ship deployed for military use that is known to have been attacked in Israeli-Iranian clashes.
A report by the Guards Corps of the Islamic Revolution on social media states that the ship was deployed in the Red Sea for some time to fight pirates. The Tasnim news agency, the newspaper of the Revolutionary Guard, said that Saviz was damaged by a mine that was attached to the vessel.
There has been no official Iranian confirmation of the attack since Tuesday night, but several channels of Telegram’s social networks run by members of the Revolutionary Guard have accused Israel of the blast.
Israeli officials have not commented since Tuesday night, and as a matter of policy they rarely confirm or deny responsibility for actions taken against Iran. But a U.S. official said the Israelis had informed the United States that their forces had hit the ship around 7:30 a.m. local time.
The official, who on condition of anonymity shared private intelligence communications, said the Israelis called the attack retaliation for earlier Iranian strikes on Israeli vessels, and that Saviz was damaged below the waterline. The exact location of the vessel in the Red Sea was not immediately clear.
The offenses lasted for two years, but previously involved a different target. Since 2019, Israel has attacked commercial ships carrying Iranian oil and weapons through the eastern Mediterranean and the Red Sea, a new naval front in the regional shadow war that previously took place by land and air.
A U.S. official said it was possible that the attack was delayed to allow Dwight D. Eisenhower, a U.S. aircraft carrier in the area, some distance between himself and Saviz. Eisenhower was about 200 miles away when Saviz was hit, an official said.
American Maritime Institute published a report in October 2020 which Saviz was claimed to be a secret warship operated by the Revolutionary Guard. The report says that uniformed men were present on the ship and that there was a boat on the deck of the ship used by the Revolutionary Guard, with a hull similar to a Boston whaler.
Iran has committed its own covert attacks. The latest was reported on March 25, when an Iranian missile hit the Israeli missile ship Lori 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 suppress Iranian military influence in the Middle East and halt Iran’s efforts to circumvent U.S. sanctions on its oil industry.