Reporting indicates that the Iran-flagged cargo vessel MV ‘SAVIZ' has suffered an explosion whilst operating in the Lower Red Sea in position 15°09N 041°01E . The Iranian flagged SAVIZ is suspected of involvement with IRGC operations and activity in support of Houthi Rebels in Yemen and the wider Red Sea. Iran has stated that the vessel was in the region to support Iranian Counter-Piracy activities.
Imagery released which alleges to be from the SAVIZ shows the engine room flooded, indicating that a device was placed below the water line.
Analysis indicates that the SAVIZ began broadcasting on AIS at 0150GMT on the morning of the 6th April. This is the first time she has broadcast on AIS since September 2020. Iranian media were quoted as stating that the attack occurred at 0630hrs local. This would be commensurate with the data seen above.
This latest incident comes in the context of increased tensions between Israel and Iran, this is the 4th such incident of 'tit-for-tat' between the two countries.
On the 25th of February the Israeli owned vehicle carrier HELIOS RAY suffered an explosion off the coast of Oman, for which Iran was accused of responsibility. Following this, Israel Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel accused Iran of “environmental terrorism” after an Oil Spill offshore Israel on the 1st and 2nd of February. Of note, Israel's military and intelligence agencies sought to distanced themselves from Ms Gamliel remarks, with local TV reporting that the defence establishment "does not share this assessment".
Following on from the attack against the HELIOS RAY the Iranian flagged MV SHAHR E KORD suffered an explosion within a container onboard on March 11th offshore Haifa. Analysis indicates that the MV SHAHR E KORD transited through the Bab Al Mandab strait between the 2nd and 3d of March where she is assessed to have called alongside the Iranian-flagged SAVIZ. Unconfirmed reporting from Israeli Defence sources, claim that the Israeli owned containership MV LORI was then hit by a missile offshore of Oman in the Arabian Sea on March 25th, reportedly suffering minor cargo damage.
Israel is assessed to have both the capability and intent to conduct complex maritime operations against adversaries both within littoral waters and beyond. In December the IDF Chief of Staff Kochavi speaking at the INSS Israel conference confirmed that Israel had carried out a “successful commando operation, not necessarily within the first circle of states.”. The statement was assessed to be a reference to the activities of the IDF unit Shayetete 13 and went on to be cited by a number of organisations as a potential rational for the conduct of the attack against the MV HELIOS RAY.
The strategic context of such attacks is vital in assessing the likelihood of future activity. Whilst these attacks have involved merchant vessels, there is no indication at this stage that attacks will evolve to include wider commercial vessels unconnected with the affairs of each state. Iran and the US have begun negotiations around Iran's return to the JCPOA with Iran stating a full lifting of sanctions as a pre condition of its return. Despite this, returning to the agreement is assessed to be a significant strategic goal for Iran and its actions are likely to be framed within the context of this. Following the attack on the MV SAVIZ the Iranian foreign ministry stated that ""The incident fortunately caused no loss of lives, and technical probes are underway into how it happened and what caused it, and our country will take all necessary measures in that regard through international authorities." Iran's reference to taking counter measures via international authorities can be seen as an attempt to de-escalate the situation, albeit in the short term. Iran has limited means through which it is able to mount an effective, sustained campaign against Israeli interests and thus is forced to rely on the use of proxies and limited asymmetric attacks. Whilst Iran is for now is seeking to shroud the incident in the diplomatic language of restraint, it remains highly likely that Iran will seek to target further Israeli vessels within the short to medium term.