Iran swaps out damaged Red Sea spy ship for new vessel
Iran has pulled back to port a damaged spy ship in the strategically crucial Red Sea and replaced it with a new spy ship, according to satellite images seen by CNN.
Satellite images showed the Iranian registered ship, the Behshad, sailing into and stopping near the Bab el-Mandeb strait, which controls access to both the Red Sea and the Suez Canal.
According to reports, the vessel set sail from the port of Bandar Abbas in early July, and arrived in the Bab el-Mandeb nine days later.
A few days after the arrival of the Behshad another Iranian ship registered as a cargo vessel, the Saviz, was seen by satellite being pulled away by two tug boats.
The Saviz had patrolled the Bab el-Mandeb strait since 2016, but was damaged in April, when a limpet mine attached to the vessel, exploded. It is widely believed that Israel was responsible for the attack.
As well as monitoring traffic in the strategic waterway, the spy ships are thought to also be engaged in help the Iran-backed Houthi rebels fighting in Yemen.
Former US president Donald Trump imposed sanctions on the Savis and the Behshad in 2018, following the unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.
Iran and Israel have been engaged in a maritime shadow conflict in the Red Sea, with tit for tat attacks on vessels, ramping up tensions between the two regional rivals.
Last week, a suspected Iranian drone attacked a LIberian-flagged tanker with ties to an Israeli shipping billionaire. Iran denied responsibility for the attack.
This week, Iranian gunmen boarded and took control of the Asphalt Princess, off the coast of the UAE, for a number of hours.
The US responded negatively to the incident, and questioned Iran’s motives.
"We are looking into the incident, but do not have an understanding of what the Iranians were doing at this time, or why they would impede the transit of this legitimate commercial vessel," a spokesperson for US Central Command told CNN.
While the White House described Iran maritime actions as "belligerent behaviour".
“And these actions also threaten freedom of navigation through crucial waterways — something that is posing a risk to a range of countries around the world,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki to reporters on Thursday.
The US has been attempting to restart the Iran nuclear deal, which Israel remains vehemently opposed to, but with the recent accession of hardliner Ebrahim Raisi to the office of Iranian president, prospects for a deal have lowered.