After Saudi and UAE allege sabotage, US sees threat in Iraq from Iran
15 May 2019
In signs that fresh tremors are developing in West Asia, Saudi Arabia on Tuesday said armed drones struck two of its oil pumping stations, two days after the sabotage of oil tankers near the United Arab Emirates.
The US military, which stands ready to plunge on Iran at the slightest provocation, also said it was braced for “possibly imminent threats to US forces in Iraq” from Iran-backed forces.
The reports of alleged attacks come against a backdrop of US-Iranian tension following Washington’s decision to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero and beef up its military presence in the Gulf after Iran decided to revoke the nuclear pact with the West.
Tuesday’s attacks on the pumping stations more than 320 km west of Riyadh and Sunday’s on four tankers off Fujairah emirate have raised concerns that the United States and Iran might be heading for a military conflict.
US President Donald Trump, however, denied New York Times report of a US plan to send up to 120,000 troops to West Asia Gulf to counter any attack or nuclear weapons programme by Iran.
“It’s fake news, OK? Now, would I do that? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that. Hopefully we’re not going to have to plan for that. And if we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that,” Trump told reporters.
Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also said there would not be any war with the United States despite mounting pressure over Iranian nuclear capabilities, its missile programme and alleged support for proxies in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
“There won’t be any war. The Iranian nation has chosen the path of resistance,” he said in comments carried by Iran’s state TV. But he said Tehran would not negotiate with Washington over Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers.
A British deputy commander of the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State remnants in Iraq and Syria also said there had been no increase in the threat from Iran-backed militia.
The British officer’s comments “run counter to the identified credible threats available to intelligence from US and allies regarding Iranian backed forces in the region,” said Navy Captain Bill Urban, a spokesman at the US military’s Central Command.
Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal a year ago and slapped economic sanctions on the country, in a bid to choke off its oil exports and force it to accept more stringent limits on its nuclear and missile programs.
Under the accord negotiated by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, Iran had agreed to curb its uranium enrichment capacity, a potential pathway to a nuclear bomb, in return for sanctions relief.
US national security agencies believe proxies sympathetic to or working for Iran may have sabotaged the tankers near the UAE rather than Iranian forces themselves, a US official familiar with the latest US assessments said.
The official said possible perpetrators might include Houthi rebels in Yemen and Iran-backed Shi’ite militias based in Iraq.
Iran rejects the allegation of Iranian involvement and Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said “extremist individuals” in the US government were pursuing dangerous policies.
A senior European diplomat voiced skepticism that Trump’s “maximum pressure” strategy would force Iran to capitulate.
“Iran is not falling to its knees,” said the diplomat on condition of anonymity, saying Iran could resume its nuclear work and leave Washington with no option but military action.