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AFP
September 22, 2019

US, Iran tension spikes

Top Story

AFP
September 22, 2019

WASHINGTON: Amid heightened tension between the United States and Iran, the US announced on Friday that it was sending military reinforcements to the Gulf region following attacks on Saudi oil facilities that it attributes to Iran, just hours after President Donald Trump ordered new sanctions on Tehran. Trump said the sanctions were the toughest-ever against another country, but indicated he did not plan a military strike, calling restraint a sign of strength.

The Treasury Department renewed action against Iran’s central bank after US officials said Tehran carried out weekend attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure, which triggered a spike in global crude prices. Those attacks, combined with an Iranian attack on an American spy drone in June, represented a "dramatic escalation of Iranian aggression," Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said.

The Pentagon chief announced that the United States would send military reinforcements to the Gulf region at the request of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

"In response to the kingdom’s request, the president has approved the deployment of US forces, which will be defensive in nature, and primarily focused on air and missile defence," Esper said.

However, Joint Chiefs of Staff Joe Dunford categorised the deployment as "moderate," with the number of troops not expected to reach thousands.

Saudi Arabia on Friday revealed extensive damage from the strikes on state giant Aramco’s facilities in Khurais and the world’s largest oil processing facility at Abqaiq. The attacks, which knocked out half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production, have been claimed by Yemen’s Huthi rebels, but Washington has pointed its finger at Tehran, condemning the strikes as an "act of war."

Abqaiq was struck 18 times while nearby Khurais was hit four times in a raid that triggered multiple explosions and towering flames that took hours to extinguish, Aramco officials said.

Aramco flew dozens of international journalists to the two sites to show it was speeding up repairs, giving rare access to the nerve centre of the world’s largest oil producer as it seeks to shore up investor confidence ahead of a planned initial public offering (IPO).

Meanwhile, Yemen’s Huthi rebels, who have repeatedly targeted key Saudi infrastructure in recent months in cross-border attacks, unexpectedly announced late Friday that they planned to halt all strikes on the country.

The move, they said, was part of a peace initiative to end their country’s devastating conflict which has killed tens of thousands of people

-- most of them civilians -- and driven millions more to the brink of famine. Iran denies US and Saudi accusations that it arms the Huthis.

Meanwhile, the Revolutionary Guards warned Saturday any country that attacks Iran will become the "main battlefield".

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Commander Major General Hossein Salami said Iran was "ready for any type of scenario". "Whoever wants their land to become the main battlefield, go ahead," he told a news conference in Tehran.

"We will never allow any war to encroach upon Iran’s territory. We hope that they don´t make a strategic mistake," he said, listing past US military "adventures" against Iran.

In Riyadh, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, Adel al-Jubeir, warned of "appropriate measures" once the source of the strikes on its oil facilities was confirmed.

"We have asked the United Nations to do an investigation and there are also other countries involved in the probe," he told a press conference.

"We are sure the attack was not launched from Yemen, but from the north. When it (the probe) is completed, we will take the appropriate procedures to deal with this aggression," said Jubeir, without specifying.

Iran´s Salami, for his part, was speaking at Tehran´s Islamic Revolution and Holy Defence museum during the unveiling of an exhibition of what Iran says are US and other drones captured in its territory. It featured a badly damaged drone with US military markings said to be an RQ-4 Global Hawk that Iran downed in June, as well as an RQ-170 Sentinel captured in 2011 and still intact. The Guards also displayed the domestically manufactured Khordad 3 air defence battery they say was used to shoot down the Global Hawk.

"What are your drones doing in our airspace? We will shoot them down, shoot anything that encroaches on our airspace," said Salami.

"Sometimes they talk of military options," Salami said, apparently referring to the Americans. Yet he warned that "a limited aggression will not remain limited" as Iran was determined to respond and would "not rest until the aggressor´s collapse".

The Guards´ aerospace commander said the US ought to learn from its past failures and abandon its hostile rhetoric.

"We´ve stood tall for the past 40 years and if the enemy makes a mistake, it will certainly receive a crushing response," Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh said.

Also on Saturday, Iran denied its oil infrastructure had been successfully attacked by a cyber operation, after reports of disruptions to the sector online.

"Contrary to Western media claims, investigations done today show no successful cyber attack was made on the country´s oil installations and other crucial infrastructure," the government´s cyber security office said.

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