A US official told The New York Times that Israel had informed Washington of an attack by its forces on the IRGC-flagged Saviz in the Red Sea on Tuesday, April 6, in reprisal for Iranian strikes against its merchant vessels. The target was a floating IRGC intelligence base stationed between Eritrea and Yemen.
No comment has come from Israel to this report. The official said the ship had been hit below the water line. Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency said that the large ship was hit by limpet mines; the IRGC blamed Israel on social media. Located at a strategic Red Sea choke point, the ship which has been stationary for two years can provide a constant flow of real-time intelligence on maritime traffic and military vessels. Uniformed men have been seen onboard the ship, and on the deck are small launch boats that are commonly used by the IRGC.
The incident highlights five points, noted here by DEBKAfile’s analysts:
- The Saviz was in position for gathering intelligence relevant to any planned Iranian sea or land Red Sea region aggression, including Israeli or Saudi coastal targets.
- The Biden administration jumped the gun in publicizing Israel’s role in the attack for its own ends. It coincided with the opening of the first indirect talks between the US and Iran, brokered by the EU in Vienna and through back channels to revive the 2025 nuclear deal, to which Israel strongly objects. US officials released the story as a warning to Israel not to spoil the diplomatic track.
- Iran, normally cagy or slow to acknowledge Israeli military strikes, got in fast with a cursory report by Tanzim.
- All this indicates a tidal shift in the tactics used in the Israel-Iranian conflict. Most significantly, the focus has moved from Israel’s campaign to wipe out Iran’s land bridge through Syria to a drive to disrupt its oceanic bridge through the Red Sea.
- The Saviz attack substantially notched up the intensity of the conflict. Most of the sea attacks until now involved civilian shipping. Israel reportedly struck a row of Iranian Syria-bound oil tankers in the Mediterranean in 2019 and last month. This year, Iran hit two Israeli merchant vessels in the Mediterranean and Gulf of Oman. But this time, the target was military, a ship called in a US report a “covert IRGC forward base.”