Israel throws a wrench into Iran nuclear talks

April 7, 2021 - 21:7

TEHRAN – An Iranian vessel was attacked in the Red Sea as Iran and the West resumed nuclear talks in Vienna to revive a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and major world powers. 

Saudi and American media outlets claimed that Israel was behind the attack. The Saudi-owned Al Arabiya reported on Tuesday night that an “Israeli commando” attached “a magnetic explosive device” to an Iranian vessel in the Red Sea.

The Tasnim news agency confirmed the attack and identified the vessel as “Iran Saviz.” It said that “the incident happened after the explosion of limpet mines attached to the hull of the ship.”

A day later, Iran officially commented on the issue. The Iranian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Wednesday confirming the attack.

“The Iranian merchant ship Saviz sustained minor damage in the Red Sea off the coast of Djibouti at around 6:am local time on April 6, 2021, due to an explosion, the cause of which is being investigated,” Saeed Khatibzadeh, the Ministry’s spokesman said. 

He said the vessel has been deployed to the region in coordination with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and it has been involved in ensuring maritime security. 

“As already officially announced and based on the arrangements made with the International Maritime Organization as the relevant authority, the non-military Saviz ship had been stationed in the Red Sea region and the Gulf of Aden in order to ensure maritime security along shipping lanes and to counter pirates,” explained the spokesman.

“The ship practically served as Iran’s logistical station (for technical support and logistics) in the Red Sea; so, the specifications and mission of this vessel had already been officially announced to the International Maritime Organization,” he added.

Iran didn’t point the finger at anyone. But The New York Times suggested that Israel was behind the attack. “The Israelis had notified the United States that its forces had struck the vessel at about 7:30 a.m. local time,” the American newspaper quoted a U.S. official as saying. Although the official said that the Israelis had called the attack a retaliation for alleged earlier Iranian strikes on Israeli vessels, but the timing of the attack strongly indicated a link between the resumption of nuclear talks in Vienna and Israeli efforts to derail those talks. The Times implicitly pointed to this link, saying the attack came as progress was reported on the first day of the Vienna talks, which are aimed to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) - the very deal that Israel has been working hard to kill since 2015.

Therefore, Israel may have intended to send a message to the Biden administration that it will do whatever it can to prevent a revival of the JCPOA. Israel’s modus operandi in the latest attack also suggests a change in Israel’s approach. Israel has reportedly been involved in a shadowy naval war with Iran in recent years.

Several Western news media reported that Israel has been attacking Iranian vessels carrying oil and other commodities since at least 2019 in a bid to halt Iran’s economic ties with other countries. These attacks mostly went unnoticed and Israel refused to publicize them until most recently. 

The Israelis would often attack Iranian commercial ships deep into the night using helicopters equipped with machine guns from a distance of many kilometers, a source familiar with the matter told the Tehran Times. 

The Israeli attacks were more of a harassment nature than an operation meant to inflict real damage, according to the source. 

The attack on the Saviz, however, indicates a new modus operandi. First, it was reportedly done with a limpet mine attached to the hull of the Iranian vessel by an Israeli commando. Second, it was carried out early in the morning, a clear indication that the attacker wanted it to be publicized. Leaking the news of the attack to Al Arabiya and The New York Times left little doubt about the intention of the attacker. 

Israel seems to be busy working to prevent the U.S. from returning to its commitments under the JCPOA. So if the U.S. is willing to revive the nuclear deal then it needs to pay more attention to Israeli machinations. 
 

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