Iran says cargo ship anchored off Yemen was attacked
Ship is believed to be a base for Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard
An Iranian cargo 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 Foreign Ministry confirmed the attack on the MV Saviz. The assault came as Iran and world powers sat down in Vienna for the first talks about the U.S. potentially rejoining Tehran's tattered nuclear deal, showing that challenges ahead don't rest merely in those negotiations.
The ship's long presence in the region, repeatedly criticized by Saudi Arabia, has come as the West and United Nations experts say Iran has provided arms and support to Yemen's Houthi rebels amid that country's years-long war. Iran denies arming the Houthis, though components found in the rebels' weaponry link back to Tehran.
Iran previously described the Saviz as aiding in "anti-piracy" efforts in the Red Sea and the Bab el-Mandeb strait, a crucial choke point in international shipping. A statement attributed to Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh described the ship as a commercial vessel.
"Fortunately, no casualties were reported ... and technical investigations are underway," Khatibzadeh said. "Our country will take all necessary measures through international authorities."
Israeli officials declined to comment about the incident when reached by The Associated Press, as did the Saviz's owner.
However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday brought up Iran in a speech to his Likud party after being asked to form a government following the country's recent election.
"We must not go back to the dangerous nuclear deal with Iran, because a nuclear Iran is an existential threat to the state of Israel and a great threat to the security of the entire world," Netanyahu said.
U.S. says not involved in attack
In a statement, the U.S. military's Central Command only said it was "aware of media reporting of an incident involving the Saviz in the Red Sea."
"We can confirm that no U.S. forces were involved in the incident," the command said. "We have no additional information to provide."
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 nearby African nation of Eritrea in the Red Sea. 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 camouflage, military-style fatigues, as well as small boats capable of ferrying cargo to the Yemeni coast. That briefing material 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-calibre machine guns.
The Saviz had been under international sanctions until Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which saw Tehran receive economic relief 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.