The US on Friday announced that it was sending military reinforcements to the Persian Gulf region following attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities that it attributed to Iran, just hours after US President Donald Trump ordered new sanctions on Tehran.
Trump said the sanctions were the toughest-ever against another country, but indicated he did not plan a military strike, calling restraint a sign of strength.
The US Department of the Treasury renewed action against the Central Bank of Iran after US officials said Tehran carried out weekend attacks on rival Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure, which triggered a spike in global crude prices.
Those attacks, combined with an Iranian attack on an US spy drone in June, represented a “dramatic escalation of Iranian aggression,” US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said.
The Pentagon chief announced that the US would send military reinforcements to the Gulf region at the request of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
“In response to the kingdom’s request, the president has approved the deployment of US forces, which will be defensive in nature and primarily focused on air and missile defense,” Esper said.
However, US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joe Dunford categorized the deployment as “moderate,” with the number of troops not expected to reach the thousands.
Earlier in the day Trump attacked critics who thought the mogul-turned-president would trigger war and hawks seeking a military response.
“The easiest thing I could do [is] knock out 15 different major things in Iran, but I think the strong-person approach and the thing that does show strength would be showing a little bit of restraint,” he said.
Trump in June authorized a military strike after Iran shot down the US spy drone, only to call it off at the last moment.
Saudi Arabia on Friday revealed extensive damage from the strikes on state-run giant Saudi Arabian Oil Co’s (Aramco) facilities in Khurais and the world’s largest oil processing facility at Abqaiq.
The attacks, which knocked out half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production, have been claimed by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels, but Washington has pointed its finger at Tehran, condemning the strikes as an “act of war.”
Abqaiq was struck 18 times while nearby Khurais was hit four times in a raid that triggered multiple explosions and towering flames that took hours to extinguish, Aramco officials said.
Aramco flew dozens of international journalists to the two sites to show it was speeding up repairs, giving rare access to the nerve center of the world’s largest oil producer as it seeks to shore up investor confidence ahead of a planned initial public offering.
Meanwhile, the Houthis, who have repeatedly targeted key Saudi Arabian infrastructure in cross-border attacks, unexpectedly announced late on Friday that they planned to halt all strikes on the country.
The move, they said, was part of a peace initiative to end their country’s devastating conflict.
Iran denies US and Saudi Arabian accusations that it arms the Houthis.
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