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Naval Warfare

PREMIUM: Did MV Saviz attack involve Saudi Arabian intelligence?

8th April 2021 - 12:57 GMT | by Richard Thomas in London

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A file image of MV Saviz. (Photo: PRESS TV)

An apparent attack on an Iranian military logistics vessel was the latest in series of maritime incidents in waters off the Arabian Peninsula.

Debate continues to swirl around the causes of an explosion on the MV Saviz in the Red Sea on 6 April, with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) vessel widely considered to be a key floating logistics facility for Tehran’s regional operations. 

In the days since, international media have widely covered the potential parties involved. For example, The New York Times, citing a US official, reported that Israel had notified Washington that Israeli forces were involved in the attack. 

Following the attack, Iranian officials confirmed that the incident had taken place. 

When contacted by Shephard, an IDF spokesperson declined to comment on the incident and would not say whether additional measures were being put in place to secure military and commercial traffic in the region.

Any covert military operation against a static maritime target would almost certainly have utilised a subsurface approach, either by unmanned systems or specialist divers. If the latter, it would mark a significant failure on the part of the IRGC operating the MV Saviz that diver discovery and deterrent systems, if used at all, were unable to prevent an attack. 

According to shipping monitoring site Marine Traffic, the Saviz is an Iranian-flagged general cargo vessel built in 1999. The vessel's length is 174m and it has a carrying capacity of 23,176dwt. 

There is also a question as to what assistance the attacking force could have received, given the location of the vessel. Iran is known to providing significant assistance to Houthi forces operating in Yemen’s ongoing civil war.

Saudi Arabia meanwhile continues to lead a coalition (including the UAE) in a controversial air campaign that is reported to have caused thousands of civilian deaths in Yemen. 

Speaking to Shephard on condition of anonymity, a source said that the operation against MV Saviz was carried out ‘in very close cooperation’ with Saudi intelligence. 

‘Automated Identification System [data] shows that this vessel had been there as a forward staging resource for years, probably assisting Houthi rebels in Yemen as well as facilitating intelligence gathering and the transshipment of small dispatches of materiel to Syria. At least, I very strongly suspect Saudi involvement,’ the source stated. 

Maritime observers Dryad Global stated on its Channel 16 news site that this was the fourth such occasion of what it described as ‘tit-for-tat’ maritime incidents between Iran and Israel, pointing to an earlier incident on 25 February involved an Israeli-owned vehicle carrier suffering an explosion off the coast of Oman. 

Dryad Global further stated that Israel ‘is assessed to have both the capability and intent to conduct complex maritime operations against adversaries both within littoral waters and beyond.’

Regional tensions have remained high for more than a year, following the killing of Maj Gen Qasem Soleimani, head of the IRGC Quds Force, in a US drone strike in Iraq on 2 January 2020

Several incidents at sea — including attacks on Saudi, Emirati, Israeli and Iranian vessels — and the seizure of commercial maritime traffic by IRGC has stoked tensions at a time when Tehran’s proxy forces in Yemen ramp up their own attacks on Riyadh’s regional ambitions. 

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