ERBIL, Iraq – After a weekend The US is attacking its trusted forces in Iraq, Syria and YemenIran has issued a stern warning against targeting the ship, which US officials and analysts suspect is providing real-time intelligence. Attacks on other ships in the Red Sea and serves as a forward operating base for commandos.
In a carefully crafted video posted on the Iranian Army’s Telegram channel on Sunday, a narrator says in English that “those who engage in terrorist activities against the MV Behshad or similar vessels are endangering international sea routes, security and taking global responsibility for potential future international risks.” . ”
Describing Behshad as a “floating armory,” the narrator says that while Iran has not been reported to be involved in any recent anti-piracy campaigns, it is involved in “counter-piracy in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden” missions. in the region.
The video ends with images of ships in the American carrier group flashing red as if they were being targeted. A man then lowers the US flag.
Asked by NBC News about the ship on Monday, Defense Department spokesman Gen. Patrick Ryder said: “I am not aware of the United States targeting the Behshad.” We know the ship very well.”
The Behshad is registered as a commercial cargo ship with a Tehran-based company that the US Treasury has sanctioned for allegedly being a front for state-owned shipping lines of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
An Iranian ship is providing the Houthis with electronic intelligence that allows them to detect and target ships in the Red Sea region, a US official, a US congressional aide and a Middle East official familiar with the matter said.
Rear Adm. Marc Miguez, commander of the Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier group currently tasked with protecting commercial shipping in the Red Sea, told NBC News that Houthi forces are receiving help from Iran to strike cargo ships, though he did not directly mention Behshad. .
“They’re using intelligence from Iran to give them some targeting information,” he said.
A number of military analysts have come to that conclusion, including Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a Washington-based pro-Israel think tank whose research focuses largely on Iranian proxies.
“The ships pretend to be anti-piracy garrison ships that can be visited by Iranian and Syrian shipping, but in fact they are Iranian weapons transfer points,” he said, adding that they are also used by military trainers from the Tehran-backed Hezbollah group in Lebanon.
“The Behshad and its sister ship Safiz are also loaded with Iranian electronic intelligence equipment used to locate target ships for the Houthis to strike,” Knights said.
After lifting anchor on January 4 this year, she sailed south to the Gulf of Aden. And since January 11, it has been moving around the Bab al-Mandeb strait, or “Gate of Grief,” a 16-mile-long waterway that is an easy-to-follow entry and chokepoint to the Red Sea. traffic entering and exiting the waterway.
Analysis by NBC News and several other experts It showed Behshad several miles away as Houthi rebels carried out a series of attacks on merchant ships. The rebel group said it will continue strikes until Israel stops its war against Hamas in Gaza.
These attacks have caused a major wave of ship sabotage and delays in global supply chains since December. Shipping giants such as Maersk and MSC have chosen to sail around the Cape of Good Hope, adding a week or two to their voyages and significantly increasing their costs.
“It’s kind of an open secret in government circles that this ship is causing us some pretty serious problems,” says Charles Lister, senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, a Washington-based think tank. “Wherever Behshad goes, it’s more or less where the Houthis target their anti-ship ballistic missiles, suicide drones and suicide boats,” he added.
National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson also accused Iran in December of being “deeply involved in planning operations against merchant shipping in the Red Sea,” without mentioning Behshad. Iran’s support “includes advanced weapons systems, intelligence support, financial assistance and training,” he said.
Before the US airstrikes began on Friday, the Behshad moved south towards the Gulf of Aden and approached the coast from a Chinese military base in the East African country of Djibouti.
The release of the video about the ship was a first for the Iranians, According to Ali Vaez, director of the International Crisis Group’s Iran project, Belgium’s main focus is on preventing wars.
“I don’t remember seeing anything like this before,” he said, adding that “Iran has seen the writing on the wall, which could be a potential target for future US military action.”
While such warnings are usually delivered through back channels, Vaez said Tehran “realized it wasn’t working, so it went public about it.”
The video comes after national security adviser Jake Sullivan refused to rule out strikes inside Iran after the country’s security forces in Iraq, Syria and Yemen retaliated against the killing of three American servicemen in Jordan last month.
During an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sullivan told moderator Kristen Welker that he was “not going to get into what we rule and rule out in terms of military operations. What I will say is that the president is determined to respond strongly to attacks against our people. The president nor is it seeking a wider war in the Middle East.”
The US military has never directly attacked Iranian soil, but in April 1988, whenThe administration of President Ronald Reagan Tehran attacked Iranian ships and offshore oil platforms in the Persian Gulf in response to the mine attack on the USS Samuel B. Roberts frigate belonging to the Navy.
Reagan’s predecessor, Jimmy Carter, He told NBC News that he was pressured to attack Iran In 1979, after 52 American diplomats and citizens were taken hostage in the US embassy in Tehran and held for 444 days.
Although he authorized Operation Eagle Claw, a covert mission to secure their release, Carter refused to launch a full military strike because he feared it would cost too many lives—a decision political analysts have cited as a key factor in his 1980 defeat by Reagan. . .
Like Carter, Biden in an election year and after the January 28 attack on the Tower 22 base in Jordan that killed. Spc. Kennedy Sanders, Spc. Breonna Moffett and Sgt. William Jerome Rivershe faced pressure from his Republican rivals to respond.
Six days later, he ordered strikes on Iraq and Syria, which the Pentagon said struck more than 85 targets in seven locations, including command and control headquarters, intelligence centers, missiles and rockets, drones and ammunition depots, and other facilities associated with militias. . or the Quds Force, an expeditionary unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards that manages Tehran’s ties to regional militias. On Sunday, further strikes were carried out on targets in Yemen.
While the Biden administration has vowed to damage the Houthis’ ability to launch drone and missile strikes against commercial cargo ships and U.S. ships in the Red Sea, it has so far chosen not to target Behshad, possibly precipitating an attack. Direct conflict with Iran.
According to Basil Germond, an expert on naval power and seafaring at Britain’s Lancaster University, an attack on any Iranian ship is “extremely dangerous in terms of escalation.”
According to him, a ship is an extension of a state’s sovereign territory, so an attack on an Iranian ship would technically be a direct attack on Iran.
Keir Simmons and Mo Abbas reported from Erbil. Dan De Luce reported from Washington and Matthew Mulligan from London.