Drone attacks claimed by Iran-aligned Yemen rebels shut down one of Saudi Arabia’s major oil pipelines Tuesday, further ratcheting up Gulf tensions after the mysterious sabotage of several tankers.
Washington and Tehran played down tensions after trading barbs as the Americans sent an aircraft carrier group and nuclear-capable B-52 bombers to the region to counter alleged threats from Saudi arch-rival Iran.
“We fundamentally do not seek a war with Iran,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at a joint news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Sochi.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said “this face-off is not military because there is not going to be any war” with the United States.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude exporter and OPEC kingpin, said two pumping stations had been targeted early Tuesday.
They lie on the East West Pipeline, able to pump five million barrels of oil a day from oil-rich Eastern Province to a Red Sea port.
The announcement came hours after Yemen’s Huthi rebels said they had targeted vital installations in Saudi Arabia, which leads a military coalition against them.
Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said Saudi Aramco had “temporarily shut down” the pipeline to “evaluate its condition” but added that oil production and exports had not been interrupted.
He said the incident was an “act of terrorism… that not only targets the kingdom but also the security of oil supplies to the world and the global economy”.
Huthi spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam tweeted that the attacks were “a response to the aggressors continuing to commit genocide” against Yemenis.
In a statement, the Huthis warned of other “unique operations… if the aggressors continue with their crimes and blockade”.
“We are capable of executing unique operations on a bigger and wider scale in the hearts of the enemy countries.”
– ‘Sabotage attacks’ –
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates intervened in the Yemen war in March 2015 to bolster the internationally recognised government’s efforts against the Huthis.
The 1,200-kilometre (750-mile) pipeline reportedly hit Tuesday serves as an alternative for Saudi crude exports if the strategically vital Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Gulf were to be closed.
Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the strait in case of a military confrontation with the US.
The reported pipeline attacks came after the UAE said four ships were damaged in “sabotage attacks” off the emirate of Fujairah, on the mouth of the Hormuz, on Sunday.