Saudi Arabia claims that two oil tankers were sabotaged

Tensions have flared in recent weeks after the USA sent warships and bombers to the region to counter an alleged threat from Iran.

Saudi Arabia's deputy defence minister, Khalid bin Salman, on Thursday accused Iran of ordering drone attacks on two of its oil pumping stations that were claimed by Yemen's Huthi rebels.

Tensions were already high after President Donald Trump walked away a year ago from the accord, which eased worldwide sanctions in return for curbs on Iran's nuclear program. Mike Pompeo on Tuesday similarly explained: "We fundamentally do not seek a war with Iran..."

A state-aligned Saudi newspaper is calling for "surgical" US strikes in retaliation against alleged threats from Iran.

Iran has been accused by the US and the United Nations of supplying ballistic missile technology and arms to the Houthis, which Tehran denies.

'We argue this because it is clear that sanctions are not sending the right message.

The Arab News argued the US had "set a precedent" with strikes against Syria's Bashar al Assad's regime in 2017 following the horror of sarin gas strikes in Khan Sheikhoun.

"Riyadh has constantly warned world leaders of the dangers that Iran poses, not only to Saudi Arabia and the region, but also to the entire world", the editorial said. "This is confirmed by the Huthis targeting facilities in the kingdom".

The Huthis said the attacks were to avenge Saudi actions in Yemen.

Details remain unclear around alleged acts of sabotage to four oil tankers, including two belonging to Saudi Arabia, off the coast of the UAE's port of Fujairah.

Some observers speculate Tehran is seeking to retaliate over Washington's decision in April to put Iran's Revolutionary Guards on a terror blacklist - a move created to stymie their activities across the Middle East. Four oil tankers were targeted in alleged sabotage attacks Sunday off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, and drones struck a Saudi oil pipeline Tuesday in an attack claimed by Iran-aligned Houthi rebels.

The Houthi-run Masirah TV channel reported six air strikes and said six civilians had been killed and dozens wounded, including women and children. Fawaz Ahmed told The Associated Press he saw three bodies being retrieved from the rubble - a father, mother and child, all buried together.

Despite its military superiority, the Saudi-led coalition has yet to defeat the Houthis. The drone attacks on the pipeline marked one of the rebels' deepest and most significant strikes inside Saudi territory since the conflict began.

Last week, USA officials said they had detected signs of Iranian preparations for potential attacks on US forces and interests in the Middle East, but Washington has not spelled out that threat.

On Wednesday, the US State Department ordered all nonessential government staff to leave Iraq, and Germany and the Netherlands both suspended their military assistance programs in the country in the latest sign of tensions. U.S. military investigators said on Tuesday they had found large holes in each of the four ships believed to be caused by explosives, though no oil spill or casualties were reported.

There are some suggestions, then, that Iran is aiming to disrupt, or at least show it is capable of disrupting, the global oil markets through these attacks.

A senior British officer in the US -backed coalition fighting the Islamic State group appeared to push back against the USA claims, telling reporters earlier in the week that there'd been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria. Maj.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said during a visit to Tokyo that Iran has the right to respond to the "unacceptable" United States sanctions, but has exercised "maximum restraint".

Iranian foreign minister Javed Zarif had held talks with external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj in New Delhi on Monday as part of his diplomatic drive to talk to shareholders about the recent developments and Iran's steps to suspend commitments under nuclear deal.

Iran recently said it would resume enriching uranium at higher levels if a new nuclear deal is not reached by 7 July.

  • Jon Douglas