Saudi Arabia said Monday that Iranian weapons were used in aerial strikes over the weekend that interrupted much of the kingdom’s oil production, and that the attacks were not launched from Yemen, home of the Houthi rebel faction that has claimed responsibility for the them.
The claims, made without supporting evidence, appeared to move the Saudis closer to directly blaming Iran, a chief ally of the Houthis, for the attacks on Saturday, which have heightened tensions between Iran and the United States, raising fears of a wider armed conflict.
United States officials have said that Iran was responsible for the attacks on Saturday, the most audacious and damaging blow to Saudi Arabia in the four and a half years of Yemen’s civil war, and have also cast doubt on whether they were launched from Houthi territory in Yemen. Iran has denied any involvement.
The Americans offered no evidence of Iranian involvement beyond satellite photos of the damage, whose meaning was unclear, and they did not say who was directly involved in carrying out the strikes or from where they were launched.
The Trump administration has previously blamed Iran for the actions of the Houthis, and United Nations experts say that Iran has supplied the group with drones and missiles that have greatly expanded its offensive capacity.
President Trump on Monday took to Twitter to suggest that Tehran could not be believed, reminding his followers of Iran’s downing of a United States surveillance drone in June. Iran’s version of events “was a very big lie,” he wrote. “Now they say that they had nothing to do with the attack on Saudi Arabia. We’ll see?”
The Saudi claims came from Colonel Turki al-Malki, spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houghis in Yemen, at a news conference in Riyadh. He did not provide any specifics, according to Saudi media and news service reports.
“The investigation is continuing, and all indications are that weapons used in both attacks came from Iran,” he said. The Saudis, he added, were seeking to determine “where they were fired from.”
Mr. Trump, who has made American policy toward Iran markedly more hostile, tweeted on Sunday night that Washington was seeking Saudi input before a potential military response.
Drone strikes set fire to a Saudi Aramco plant in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, early Saturday. The location was one of two Saudi Aramco facilities targeted, and Yemen’s Houthi rebel faction has claimed responsibility for the strikes.CreditCreditHamad I Mohammed/Reuters
“There is reason to believe that we know the culprit,” he wrote, adding that the military was “locked and loaded depending on verification.”
But no clear public message had yet emerged about the preferred Saudi response. Prominent supporters of the monarchy have portrayed the strikes as an assault on the world and its energy markets, not just Saudi Arabia, or have even talked of revenge.
“What is required is nothing more than the destruction of Iran’s oil installations, and if there is a capacity, nuclear facilities and military bases as well,” argued Turki al-Hamad, a prominent Saudi political analyst and novelist.
But other social media accounts known for pro-government propaganda argued for patience, saying that wisdom favors choosing the right time and means to respond.
Mohammed Alyahya, editor in chief of the English website of the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news channel, emphasized that the rulers of the kingdom were deliberating carefully. The attacks show that Iranians are feeling the pain of the Trump administration’s sweeping sanctions, and “they are more likely to take risks like the one they took recently,” he said.
“A conventional military response must only be embarked upon with the utmost care in terms of the legality and consequences, after looking at all the other alternatives,” he added. “If there is a military conflict, Iran will inevitably be the biggest loser but the reality is that everybody will lose. A conventional war will take its toll on everyone.”
The Houthis insisted on Monday that they had carried out the strikes using drones, while threatening more, although they made no reference to whether Iranian equipment or training played a role.
A spokesman for the Houthi military, Brig. Gen. Yahya Sare’e, “warned companies and foreigners not to be present in the factories that were hit by our strikes because we may target them again at any moment,” Almasirah, the Houthi news organization, reported on Monday.
The Houthis can strike at will anywhere in Saudi Arabia, he said, and their actions against the kingdom “will expand and be more painful.”
Saudi Arabia is leading the coalition that is fighting the Houthis in Yemen, waging a bombing campaign that has killed thousands, many of them civilians. The war there is considered the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis of recent years, displacing millions of people and leaving millions more at risk of starvation.
A satellite image provided by the United States government of damage at the Abqaiq oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia on Saturday.CreditU.S. Government/DigitalGlobe, via Associated Press
The Houthis claimed to have used 10 drones in the Saturday attack; American officials said that there were 17 points of impact. The rebel group has launched missile and drone attacks into Saudi territory before, but never anything on that scale, or against such vital targets, or so deep into the kingdom, some 500 miles from Yemeni territory.
The attacks on Saturday forced the shutdown of facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais, which ordinarily process most of the crude oil produced by Saudi Arabia, which supplies about a tenth of the worldwide total. A Saudi official said Monday that the kingdom had shut down about half of its production because of the attacks, but expected its output to return to normal soon.
Saudi Arabia and other exporters keep large oil stockpiles. Experts say it is unclear whether the Saudi equipment will be out of commission long enough to affect global oil supplies, but prices rose sharply in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.
The Iraqi government said Monday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had told Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi on Sunday night that the information reviewed by the United States showed that the attacks had not come from Iraqi territory.
That would mean the United States does not suspect that Shiite militias in Iraq with ties to Iran are responsible for the attacks. Some of those militias are under the umbrella of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, which fought against the Islamic State and whose salaries are paid by Baghdad.
“The prime minister stressed that Iraq’s task is to maintain its own security and stability and avoid any step of escalation and to prevent the use of its territory against any neighboring or brotherly or friendly country,” the Iraqi statement said.
The State Department declined to comment on Mr. Pompeo’s call or the official Iraqi statement. The department did not provide its own summary of the call.
Tensions between the United States and Iran have increased sharply since last year, when Mr. Trump withdrew from the 2015 deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program and reimposed economic sanctions against Iran. This spring, he imposed new sanctions, and Iran, which had continued to abide by the 2015 accord after the United States withdrawal, began stepping back from some of their obligations.
In May and June, several tankers were damaged in or near the Strait of Hormuz, in what American officials said were Iranian attacks. Iran has also seized several foreign ships.
On Monday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said that a British-flagged tanker, Stena Impero, which Iran impounded while it sailed near its coast in July, will be released within days. Iran took the ship after British and Gibraltar forces seized an Iranian tanker, which was released last month after more than six weeks’ detention.
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