The US watches Iran quietly replace the Red Sea spy ship that was damaged in an attack in April

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CNN

The US monitored Iranian ship movements in the Middle East as Tehran quietly replaced a spy ship damaged in an April attack in the Red Sea, two US officials told CNN amid escalating regional tensions with Iran and an ongoing shadow maritime conflict between Israel and Iran.

Iran towed the wrecked ship back to port and brought a similar ship to gather information on the strategically important waterway, officials said.

The Behshad, an Iranian ship registered as a general cargo carrier, left the port of Bandar Abbas in early July and reached its destination nine days later, according to satellite images, the CNN reported in a report. were made available ImageSat International, an Israeli satellite and intelligence company tracking the ship’s voyage. The Behshad stopped near the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, an important waterway that controls access to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal.

A few days later, the Saviz, another Iranian ship registered as a cargo ship that had been patrolling these waters for five years, began its return journey to Iran accompanied by two tugs. The ships are currently south of Oman, satellite images from ImageSat International show.

ImageSat International

Satellite images from ImageSat International

On Thursday, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz replied “yes” to a question from Israeli media company Ynet whether Israel was ready to attack Iran, despite Gantz and other Israeli officials stressing the need for a diplomatic united front against Tehran.

Saeed Khatibzadeh, the Iranian Foreign Ministry‘s spokesman, wrote on Twitter on Thursday that any Israeli military action against the country would end with a “decisive” response. Khatibzadeh described the Israeli threat of military action as a “shameless violation of international law” and warned: “Do not test us”.

Since she was listed as a cargo ship, the Saviz has been used by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to gather information on the critical waterway and aid Iranian Houthi allies in Yemen, officials said. Both the Saviz and Behshad were sanctioned by former President Donald Trump in 2018 as part of his campaign for maximum pressure on Iran.

The Saviz was damaged in an attack on a Napf mine in early April, believed to have been carried out by Israel. The 570-foot ship has been patrolling the waters near the Bab el-Mandeb Strait since 2016. Iran said the ship had ensured maritime security and operated against pirates.

Satellite images from ImageSat International

ImageSat International

Satellite images from ImageSat International

The limpid attack, an explosive attached to the side of a ship, often just below the waterline, came as international negotiators made progress on a return to the Iranian nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which Israel openly rejects.

The shadow maritime conflict between Iran and Israel reached new heights last week with the drone attack on Mercer Street, a Liberian-flagged tanker with links to an Israeli shipping billionaire. A Romanian and a British man were killed in the attack off the coast of Oman that the US, Britain and others have blamed Iran. Although Iran has denied any involvement in the attack, the US has called for a coordinated response against Tehran.

Iran’s actions in open waters have grown bolder. This week Iranian gunmen confiscated the Asphalt Princess off the coast of the United Arab Emirates for several hours.

Satellite images from ImageSat International

ImageSat International

Satellite images from ImageSat International

“We are investigating the incident, but we do not know what the Iranians were doing at the time or why they would obstruct the passage of this legitimate merchant ship,” US Central Command spokesman Captain William Urban told CNN.

The White House warned that “Iran’s escalating activity” worried the US and the international community.

“We believe that it follows a pattern of attacks and other warlike behavior,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday. “And these actions also threaten the freedom of navigation on major waterways – something that poses a risk to a number of countries around the world.”

At least three times in the past few months, Iranian rapid attack boats in the Persian Gulf have approached US Navy and Coast Guard ships and come within a few dozen meters of what officials have termed “unsafe and unprofessional maneuvers”. In one of the incidents in May, a Coast Guard ship fired around 30 warning shots when the fast attack boats failed to acknowledge bridge-to-bridge radio transmissions and other means of communication.

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