Saudi oil facilities attacked; US-Iran tensions flare

May 15, 2019 08:54
A Houthi military spokesperson, speaking from an unknown location in Yemen on Tuesday, claims responsibility for drone attack on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia. Credit: Houthi media handout via Reuters

Saudi Arabia said armed drones struck two of its oil pumping stations on Tuesday, two days after the sabotage of oil tankers near the United Arab Emirates, Reuters reports.

The attacks took place against a backdrop of US-Iranian tension following Washington’s decision this month to try to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero and to beef up its military presence in the Gulf in response to what it said were Iranian threats, the report noted.

The US military said it is braced for “possibly imminent threats to US forces in Iraq” from Iran-backed forces.

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

A Saudi-led coalition has been battling the Houthis for four years in Yemen to try to restore the internationally recognized government in a conflict widely seen as a Saudi-Iran proxy war.

The Houthis have hit Saudi cities with drones and missiles, but two Saudi sources told Reuters 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, which lies north of Bab al-Mandeb.

According to the Saudi energy minister, 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.

Still, oil prices rose on news of the attack on the Saudi pumping stations.

Tuesday’s attacks on the pumping stations more than 200 miles west of Riyadh came after Sunday’s sabotage attacks on four tankers off Fujairah emirate.

US national security agencies believe proxies sympathetic to or working for Iran may have sabotaged the tankers near the UAE rather than Iranian forces themselves, Reuters quoted a US official as saying.

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

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

Iran rejects the allegation of Iranian involvement. Its Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said “extremist individuals” in the US government were pursuing dangerous policies.

US President Donald Trump, meanwhile, rejected a media report which said that American officials were discussing a military plan to send up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East to counter any attack or nuclear weapons acceleration by Iran.

Iran’s 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.

“There won’t be any war. The Iranian nation has chosen the path of resistance,” he said in comments carried by Iran’s state TV. He repeated that Tehran will not negotiate with Washington over Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers.

Trump withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal a year ago and has sharply increased economic sanctions on Iran.

Saudi Arabia said the international community has a 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.”

-- Contact us at [email protected]