The talks in Vienna that began Tuesday on the U.S. return to the Iran nuclear agreement are directly connected to the same day attack on an Iranian vessel in the Red Sea that has been attributed to Israel.
Both Tehran and Jerusalem are signaling to Washington that the Middle East must be higher up on U.S. President Joe Biden's list of priorities and that if untreated, the conflict between Israel and Iran could escalate to all-out war.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday confirmed that the vessel had been attacked and "caused minor damage with no casualties." An investigation is underway, it said.
The vessel that was hit, the Saviz, is actually a floating naval base for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps in the Red Sea, off the coasts of Yemen and Djibouti - whatever Iran says to the contrary.
Tasnim, the Iranian news agency linked to the Revolutionary Guard, said Tuesday that the Saviz was there to "support Iranian commandos sent on commercial vessel (anti-piracy) escort missions."
Saviz was actually in the area to protect Iranian ships in the Red Sea and to grant fast-moving Revolutionary Guard commando boats the freedom of movement to carry out objectives in line with Tehran's interests.
These boats are kept onboard the Saviz for use by the commando forces who protect Iranian oil tankers and vessels smuggling weapons as they make their way to Syria and Lebanon through the Suez Canal, whilst mindful of Israeli forces in the area.
Pictures of the boats onboard the Saviz appeared in the Israeli media.
The vessel also acts as an intelligence base, monitoring Saudi vessels that are enforcing a maritime embargo on Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen and preventing humanitarian aid from reaching them.
It largely remains off the Yemeni coast, some 1,600 kilometers (994 miles) south of Israel.
The Saviz suffered serious damage in Tuesday's attack, far more than was caused in other attacks on Iranian vessels attributed to Israel as they transported oil and arms to both Syrian and Lebanon.
The damage to the Saviz was below water level, briefly preventing it from moving, but not sinking it.
It is probable that the damage requires the ship to be towed for repairs to a port big enough to accommodate it, most likely in Iran. And weeks if not months will pass before such an operation can take place.
The attack marks an escalation in the ongoing covert war being waged at sea between Israel and Iran.
The aim of the attack was threefold:
1. To retaliate for an Iranian attack on an Israeli-owned cargo ship in the Arabian Sea last month.
2. To show the Iranians that Israel has the upper hand in the waters of the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, and that Tehran would be wise to refrain from efforts to attack its navy or Israeli-owned vessels anywhere near their shores, including in the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. Iran must also end efforts to smuggle oil and arms to Syria and Lebanon.
3. To clarify to the United States that Israel will continue its relentless fight against Iran's subversive actions in the region, whether it is in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen, even if the U.S. is attempting to rebuild relations with the Islamic Republic.
Israel has come to understand that Washington is hoping to de-escalate their conflict with Iran at almost any cost so that the administration can focus its attention on the coronavirus pandemic, infrastructure and adversarial relations with China and Russia.
The Iranian nuclear program is a nuisance to the Americans. Biden has committed to preventing a nuclear Iran and his administration is concerned that if Tehran continues to develop its atomic capabilities, Israel might launch a strike against it. This would certainly lead to a war that the U.S. would be dragged into it whether it likes it or not.
To avoid this, the administration is prepared to make significant concessions to the Iranians in order to entice them back to the negotiating table and abiding by the nuclear deal that former president Donald Trump walked away from in 2018.
Officials in Israel are concerned. The country's intelligence agencies observed that the Iranians are not attempting to produce nuclear weapons at the moment but do want to be a nuclear threshold state. The Vienna talks, which are expected to last a few months, will help them with this goal.
Israel wants to stop the Iranians from fulfilling their plan, but is facing serious obstacles.
The current government has little to no sway over Washington's foreign policy decisions and officials in Jerusalem are watching with concern as America appears ready to be humiliated by Iran as long as it returns to the 2015 agreement.
Even it could affect the Vienna talks, Israel and the U.S. must be on the same page about the next diplomatic steps should Iran keep pushing ahead with its nuclear program. But such discussions have not even begun.
Meanwhile, Iran's economy has rebounded thanks to covert oil sales to China and Russia and its leaders no longer fear the sanctions imposed on the country.
In fact, Iran inches closer every day to becoming a nuclear threshold state.