Saudi oil facilities attacked

Reuters, RIYADH and DUBAI, United Arab Emirates

Thu, May 16, 2019 - Page 1

Saudi Arabia said that armed drones on Tuesday struck two of its oil pumping stations, two days after the sabotage of oil tankers near the United Arab Emirates (UAE), while the US military said it was braced for “possibly imminent threats to US forces in Iraq” from Iran-backed forces.

Tuesday’s attacks and Sunday’s attacks on four tankers off Fujairah emirate have raised concerns that the US and Iran might inching toward military conflict.

However, US President Donald Trump denied a New York Times report that US officials were discussing a plan to send up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East to counter any attack or nuclear weapons acceleration by Iran.

“It’s fake news, OK? Now, would I do that? Absolutely, but we have not planned for that,” Trump told reporters.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said there would not be war with the US, despite mounting tensions over Iranian nuclear capabilities, its missile program and its support for proxies in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

The US military cited possible imminent threats to its troops in Iraq and said it was on high alert.

The US yesterday ordered all non-emergency staff to leave its embassy in Baghdad and consulate in Arbil.

US national security agencies believe proxies sympathetic to or working for Iran might have sabotaged the tankers near the UAE rather than Iranian forces themselves, a US official familiar with the latest assessments said.

The official said that possible perpetrators might include Houthi rebels in Yemen and Iran-backed Shiite militias based in Iraq, but Washington had no hard evidence.

On Monday, a US official said that Iran was a leading candidate for the tanker sabotage, but the US did not have conclusive proof.

Tehran has rejected the allegation of Iranian involvement and Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif said that “extremist individuals” in the US government were pursuing dangerous policies.

A senior European diplomat voiced skepticism that Trump’s “maximum pressure” strategy would force Iran to capitulate.

“Iran is not falling to its knees,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity. “Does Trump want to go to war with Iran, especially during an election campaign year?”

Houthi-run Masirah TV earlier said that the group had carried out drone attacks on “vital” Saudi Arabian installations in response to “continued aggression and blockade” on Yemen.

The Houthis have hit Saudi Arabian cities with drones and missiles, but two Saudi Arabian sources said that this was the first time a facility of the state-run Aramco had been attacked by drones.

Aramco said it had temporarily shut down the east-west pipeline, known as Petroline, to evaluate its condition. The pipeline mainly transports crude from the kingdom’s eastern fields to the port of Yanbu.

Saudi Arabian Minister of Energy Khalid al-Falih said that the latest attacks caused a fire, now contained, and minor damage at one pump station, but did not disrupt oil output or exports of crude and petroleum products.

Saudi Arabia’s Cabinet said that the “terrorist attack” reflected poorly on regional and international security, the Saudi Press agency reported.

It quoted the Cabinet as saying that it was the international community’s shared responsibility “to preserve maritime safety and oil tankers’ security in anticipation of any effects on energy markets and the danger of that on world economy.”

Additional reporting by AFP