DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — An 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 Foreign Ministry confirmed the attack on the MV Saviz, suspected to have been carried out by Israel — though Tehran did not immediately blame its regional archenemy. The assault came as Iran and world powers sat down in Vienna for the first talks about the U.S. potentially rejoining the tattered deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program, showing events outside the negotiations could derail those efforts.
The ship’s long presence in the region, repeatedly criticized by Saudi Arabia, has come as the West and U.N. experts say Iran has provided arms and support to Yemen’s Houthi rebels in that country’s yearslong 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 chokepoint 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.”
In an earlier state TV statement, an anchor cited a New York Times story, which quoted an anonymous U.S. official telling the newspaper that Israel informed America it carried out an attack Tuesday morning on the vessel. Israeli officials declined to comment about the assault when reached by The Associated Press, as did Saviz’s owner.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, while refusing to say if his country launched the attack, described Iran and its regional allies as a major threat.
“Israel must continue to defend itself,” Gantz told journalists. “Any place we find an operational challenge and necessity, we will continue to act.”
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. A limpet mine is a type of naval mine that is attached to the side of a ship, usually by a diver. It later explodes, and can significantly damage a vessel. Iran did not blame anyone for the attack and said Iranian officials likely would offer more information in the coming days.
In a statement, the U.S. military’s Central Command only said it was aware of media reports of an incident involving the Saviz and that U.S. forces were not involved.
At the United Nations, spokesman Stephane Dujarric expressed concern over the Saviz incident and urged “concerned parties, including countries in the region, to exercise maximum restraint and refrain from taking any escalatory actions and, in particular, to respect their obligations under international law.”
Also Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the Vienna talks a “success” while speaking 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 said.
A European diplomat with knowledge of the talks, speaking on condition of anonymity to frankly discuss the closed-door meeting in Vienna, acknowledged outside events could affect the negotiations.
“We hope that every action, whether it comes from (nuclear deal) parties or external parties, won’t undermine the dynamic,” he said.
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