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Iranian-backed Houthis Attack Oil Pipeline Belonging to Saudi Arabia’s Aramco
(Getty Images)

Iranian-backed Houthis Attack Oil Pipeline Belonging to Saudi Arabia’s Aramco

The incident raises the stakes between Riyadh and Tehran, as the US weighs military options

Saudi Arabia said that two pumping stations along the major east-west oil pipeline belonging to state-owned Aramco were targeted in “terror attacks.”

Iranian-backed Houthis rebels claimed responsibility for the attacks, which they said involved seven armed drones and constituted a warning to the Saudi-led coalition that has been waging war against them in Yemen since 2015.

Houthi spokesman Mohammad Albaradi told The Media Line that striking Saudi oil interests evidenced the rebel group’s ability to hit “deep” within the kingdom.

“A new phase of attacks on Saudi Arabia [has started] with a focus on important installations,” Albaradi said, adding that the Saudi government was purposely trying to downplay the damage caused by the assaults.

“Saudi Arabia doesn’t disclose all the news, they are covering up what took place,” he contended.

In this respect, Riyadh’s energy minister announced only that operations in the affected area were suspended and that Aramco representatives were “assessing the damage to repair the line and station.”

The company added in a statement that the suspension would only be temporary and was taken “as a precautionary measure.”

Other Saudi officials attempted to assuage international concerns by stressing that developments would not halt the country’s export of oil and therefore not adversely impact on energy markets.

Wadah Elenizi, a Saudi political analyst based in Jedda, told The Media Line that the timing of the attacks is no coincidence.

“Iran is under tremendous pressure from the United States, but they can’t attack the Americans so they…order their proxy to target us instead,” he said.

Tuesday’s incident comes against the backdrop of the “sabotage” earlier this week of four commercial vessels – including two oil tankers belonging to Saudi Arabia – off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

This, in turn, followed the White House’s recent decision to send an aircraft carrier to the Gulf, a fleet of B-52 bombers to an air base in Qatar, and additional Patriot anti-ballistic-missile defense systems to the region.

In response, a top-ranking Iranian army commander described the US military build-up as an opportunity.

“An aircraft carrier that has at least 40 to 50 planes on it and 6,000 forces gathered within it was a serious threat for us in the past, but now it is a target,” Amirali Hajizadeh, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Aerospace Division, reportedly said. He stressed that if Washington initiates a conflagration, “we will hit them in the head.”

Meanwhile, Israeli security cabinet member Yuval Steinitz warned that if the current situation continues to deteriorate, the Islamic Republic could lash out at Israel through underlings such as Lebanon-based Hizbullah or Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.

As US-Iran tensions reach a boiling point, Washington’s acting defense secretary reportedly presented to President Donald Trump an updated war plan in the event of a military confrontation with Tehran. According to the New York Times, the proposal calls for the deployment of up to 120,000 US troops to the Middle East should the mullahs order strikes on American assets therein or accelerate their nuclear program.

That report comes as the US Embassy in Baghdad issued an advisory warning Americans not to travel to Iraq due to “heightened tensions.” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week made a surprise visit to Baghdad in a show of support for the government, many of whose members have close ties to Tehran. He emphasized the need for local authorities to protect US citizens and troops stationed in the country.

Iran recently announced that it was reducing its “voluntary” commitments stipulated in the 2015 nuclear deal, from which the Trump Administration withdrew last year. This prompted Pompeo to travel to Brussels on Monday to discuss the matter with EU officials, who are attempting to salvage the pact by providing the Iranian regime with additional economic incentives.

The top US diplomat was in Sochi on Tuesday to talk Tehran with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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