Iran ship mentioned to be Red Sea troop base off Yemen attacked

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An Iranian ship believed to be a base for the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and anchored for years within the Red Sea off Yemen has been attacked, Tehran acknowledged Wednesday.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the assault on the MV Saviz, suspected to have been carried out by Israel — although Tehran didn’t instantly blamed its regional archenemy. The assault got here as Iran and world powers sat down in Vienna for the primary talks in regards to the U.S. doubtlessly rejoining the tattered deal geared toward curbing Iran’s nuclear program, displaying occasions outdoors the negotiations may derail these efforts.

The ship’s lengthy presence within the area, repeatedly criticized by Saudi Arabia, has come because the West and United Nations consultants say Iran has supplied arms and help to Yemen’s Houthi rebels in that nation’s yearslong battle. Iran denies arming the Houthis, although elements discovered within the rebels’ weaponry hyperlink again to Tehran.

Iran beforehand described the Saviz as aiding in “anti-piracy” efforts within the Red Sea and the Bab el-Mandeb strait, a vital chokepoint in worldwide delivery. A press release attributed to Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh described the ship as a business vessel.

“Fortunately, no casualties were reported … and technical investigations are underway,” Khatibzadeh said. “Our country will take all necessary measures through international authorities.”

In an earlier state TV assertion, an anchor cited a New York Times story, which quoted an nameless U.S. official telling the newspaper that Israel knowledgeable America it carried out an assault Tuesday morning on the vessel. Israeli officers declined to remark in regards to the assault when reached by The Associated Press, as did the Saviz’s proprietor.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, whereas refusing to say if his nation launched the assault, described Iran and its regional allies as a significant menace.

“Israel must continue to defend itself,” Gantz advised journalists. “Any place we find an operational challenge and necessity, we will continue to act.”

Iran’s semiofficial Tasnim information company, believed to be near the Guard, reported {that a} limpet mine planted on Saviz’s hull triggered the blast. A limpet mine is a sort of naval mine that’s hooked up to the aspect of a ship, normally by a diver. It later explodes, and might considerably harm a vessel. Iran didn’t blame anybody for the assault and mentioned Iranian officers seemingly would supply extra info within the coming days.

In an announcement, the U.S. navy’s Central Command solely mentioned it was conscious of media experiences of an incident involving the Saviz and that U.S. forces weren’t concerned.

On Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani known as the Vienna talks a “success” whereas talking to his Cabinet.

“Today, one united statement is being heard that all sides of the nuclear deal have concluded that there is no better solution than the deal,” he mentioned.

A European diplomat with information of the talks, talking on situation of anonymity to frankly focus on the closed-door assembly in Vienna, acknowledged outdoors occasions may have an effect on the negotiations.

“We hope that each motion, whether or not it comes from (nuclear deal) events or exterior events, received’t undermine the dynamic,” he said.

The 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 African nation of Eritrea. It likely received supply replenishments and switched crew via passing Iranian vessels using the waterway.

Briefing materials from the Saudi military earlier obtained by the AP showed men on the vessel dressed in military-style fatigues, as well as small boats capable of ferrying cargo to the Yemeni coast. Those materials also included pictures showing a variety of antennas on the vessel that the Saudi government described as unusual for a commercial cargo ship, suggesting it conducted electronic surveillance. Other images showed the ship had mounts for .50-caliber machine guns.

The Washington Institute for Near-East Policy has called the Saviz an “Iranian mothership” in the region, similarly describing it as an intelligence-gathering base and an armory for the Guard. Policy papers from the institute don’t explain how they came to that conclusion, though its analysts routinely have access to Gulf and Israeli military sources.

The Saviz had been under international sanctions until Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which saw Tehran receive relief from sanctions in exchange for limiting its enrichment of uranium. The Trump administration later renewed American sanctions on the Saviz as part of its decision to unilaterally withdraw from the accord.

In June 2019, Saudi Arabia flew a critically ill Iranian off the Saviz after Tehran made a request through the United Nations for assistance.

Amid the wider tensions between the U.S. and Iran, a series of mysterious blasts have targeted ships in the region, including some the U.S. Navy blamed on Iran. Among the ships broken not too long ago was an Israeli-owned automotive service in an assault Netanyahu blamed on Iran. Another was an Iranian cargo ship within the Mediterranean Sea.

Iran additionally has blamed Israel for a current collection of assaults, together with a mysterious explosion in July that destroyed a complicated centrifuge meeting plant at its Natanz nuclear facility. Another is the November killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top Iranian scientist who founded the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program two decades ago.

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Associated Press journalists Nasser Karimi and Mehdi Fattahi in Tehran, Iran, Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem and Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.

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Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

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