Israel notified the US that it is responsible for the Tuesday attack on an Iranian cargo ship affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, an American official told The New York Times.
A spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry confirmed on Wednesday that the Saviz was lightly damaged in the Red Sea off the coast of Djibouti at about 6 a.m. on Tuesday due to an explosion, adding that the cause of the explosion is under investigation.
“The Saviz civilian ship was stationed in the Red Sea region and the Gulf of Aden to establish maritime security along the shipping lanes and to counter piracy,” said the spokesman. “This ship practically acted as a logistics station (technical support and logistics) of Iran in the Red Sea, and therefore the specifications and mission of this ship had previously been officially announced.”
According to the Foreign Ministry, no casualties were reported.
When asked about the alleged attack, Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz told Channel 12 news that he would not discuss “any of the operations that are taking place in the Middle East and are associated with” Israel.
“The State of Israel must continue to defend itself,” said Gantz. “Wherever we find an operational challenge and operational need we will continue to act.”
“We are here now in a place that at it’s base is a defensive operation, but this defense alone is not enough and we must also carry out offensive operations and we will do them as best we can,” added Gantz to Channel 12.
The IRGC-affiliated Tasnim news reported Tuesday that the ship was damaged in an explosion caused by limpet mines on the hull of the ship.
Saudi media later speculated that the blast was caused by “Israeli commandos.”
The United States Naval Institute (USNI) reported last year that the Saviz, while officially listed as a merchant ship, was likely a covert IRGC forward base. Tasnim confirmed this on Tuesday, saying that the ship had been stationed in the Red Sea in recent years to support Iranian commandos escorting commercial vessels.
According to the USNI, as of October 2020, the ship had barely moved from its location off the coast of Yemen for three years. The report stated that the Saviz may have been used to feed intelligence to Iran and the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen for a number of purposes, including to help them carry out strikes on maritime vessels in the area, with a number of strikes in recent years blamed on Iran and the Houthis.
The vessel reportedly showed up on independent ship tracking site MarineTraffic at about 4:45 a.m. on Tuesday before dropping off the map again at 9:44 a.m., according to social media reports.
The incident comes after two strikes on Israeli vessels in the region and reports of dozens of earlier strikes carried out by Israel and Iran on each other’s maritime vessels in locations ranging from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf.
Late last month, an Iranian missile was reportedly fired at an Israeli ship between India and Oman, striking and damaging the ship. In February, Iran allegedly attacked the Israeli-owned cargo vessel MV Helios Ray, which was damaged by an explosion in the Gulf of Oman.
Additionally, in March, Maariv reported that dozens of Iranian ships had been attacked by Israel throughout the Middle East, after The Wall Street Journal reported that a dozen Iranian oil tankers headed to Syria had been attacked by Israel.
Additionally on Tuesday, TankerTrackers.com, an online service that tracks and reports shipments and storage of crude oil, reported that four Iranian oil tankers were on their way through the Suez Canal to Syria carrying a combined 3.5 million barrels of oil and breaking trade embargoes on the two countries.
The report also comes as Iran meets with European and American officials to discuss a possible return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name for the nuclear agreement signed in 2015 between the Islamic Republic and world powers.
The US denied any involvement in the incident on Tuesday night, US officials told Reuters.
Following a Jerusalem Post query, the IDF said that it doesn’t respond to foreign reports.
Earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Israel would defend itself against Iranian threats in the backdrop of the indirect negotiations between Iran and the world powers.
“We cannot back the dangerous nuclear plan, because a nuclear Iran is an existential threat and a very big threat to the security of the whole world,” said Netanyahu in a meeting of his Likud faction in the Knesset. “We must act against the fanatical regime in Iran that is simply threatening to erase us from the Earth… We will always know to defend ourselves by ourselves from those who seek to kill us.”