Oil Attack: Iran Issues ‘Battlefield’ Warning As US Deploys Troops

Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Major General Hossein Salami 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, in the capital Tehran on September 21, 2019. ATTA KENARE / AFP

 

Any country that attacks Iran will become the “main battlefield”, the Revolutionary Guards warned Saturday after Washington ordered reinforcements to the Gulf following attacks on Saudi oil installations it blames on Tehran.

Tensions escalated between arch-foes Iran and the United States after last weekend’s attacks on Saudi energy giant Aramco’s Abqaiq processing plant and Khurais oilfield halved the kingdom’s oil output.

Yemen’s Huthi rebels have claimed responsibility for the strikes but the US says it has concluded the attacks involved cruise missiles from Iran and amounted to “an act of war”.

Washington approved the deployment of troops to Saudi Arabia at “the kingdom’s request,” Defence Secretary Mark Esper said, noting the forces would be “defensive in nature” and focused on air and missile defence.

But 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.

Salami 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.

 ‘Act of war’ 

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, noting Iran had defeated “America’s technological dominance” in air defence and drone manufacture.

His remarks came only days after strikes on Saudi oil facilities claimed by Yemen’s Huthis, but the US says it has concluded the attack involved cruise missiles from Iran and amounted to “an act of war”.

Saudi Arabia, which has been bogged down in a five-year war across its southern border in Yemen, has said Iran “unquestionably sponsored” the attacks.

The kingdom says the weapons used in the attacks were Iranian-made, but it stopped short of directly blaming its regional rival.

“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.”

 ‘Crushing response’ 

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.

The United States upped the ante on Friday by announcing new sanctions against Iran’s central bank, with President Donald Trump calling the measures the toughest America has ever imposed on another country.

Washington has imposed a series of sanctions against Tehran since unilaterally pulling out of a landmark 2015 nuclear deal in May last year.

It already maintains sweeping sanctions on Iran’s central bank, but the US Treasury said Friday’s designation was over the regulator’s work in funding “terrorism”.

The “action targets a crucial funding mechanism that the Iranian regime uses to support its terrorist network, including the Qods Force, Hezbollah and other militants that spread terror and destabilise the region,” said US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

The Qods Force is the Guards’ foreign operations arm, while Hezbollah is a Lebanese Shiite militant group closely allied with Iran.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the new sanctions meant the United States was “trying to block the Iranian people’s access to food and medicine”.

It showed the US was in “despair” and that “the maximum pressure policy has reached its end,” semi-official news agency ISNA quoted him as saying from New York.

AFP

Saudi To Announce Oil Attacks Findings As US Weighs Retaliation

A picture taken on September 15, 2019 shows an Aramco oil facility near al-Khurj area, just south of the Saudi capital Riyadh. Saudi Arabia raced today to restart operations at oil plants hit by drone attacks which slashed its production by half, as Iran dismissed US claims it was behind the assault.

Saudi Arabia said it will unveil the results later Wednesday of its probe into attacks on key oil installations, as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heads to the kingdom to discuss possible retaliation.

Riyadh, which is bogged down in a five-year war against Tehran-aligned rebels in neighbouring Yemen, has said that the weapons used were Iranian-made but has not directly blamed its arch-rival.

However, the Saudi defence ministry said its spokesman would present evidence from the site of the weekend attacks that halved Saudi oil production, sending global energy markets into a tailspin.

He “will announce the final results of the investigation and present material evidence and Iranian weapons proving the Iranian regime’s involvement in the terrorist attack,” the ministry said.

Late Tuesday, Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said international investigators, including from the UN, were joining the probe, having announced that output would return to normal by the end of the month.

The kingdom wants “proof based on professionalism and internationally recognised standards,” he said.

The Saudis will present the evidence ahead of Pompeo’s arrival.

The US chief diplomat is set to meet with de facto Saudi ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to discuss how to respond to the strikes, which the US says originated in Iran.

“As the president said, we don’t want war with anybody, but the United States is prepared,” Vice President Mike Pence said in a speech in Washington on Tuesday.

“We’re locked and loaded and we’re ready to defend our interests and allies in the region, make no mistake about it,” he said, echoing President Donald Trump’s words on Sunday.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that the Trump administration has concluded that last weekend’s attack involved cruise missiles from Iran and that evidence would be presented at the UN General Assembly next week.

Prefer not to meet

The apparent hardening of the US position came as Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ruled out negotiations with Washington “at any level”.

This appeared to nix remaining hopes for a dramatic meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations next week.

Speaking to reporters on Air Force One over California, Trump said he too had cooled on what had always seemed to be a diplomatic longshot.

“I never rule anything out, but I prefer not meeting him,” Trump said.

Yemen’s Huthi rebels claimed responsibility for Saturday’s oil installation attacks, which took out six percent of global supplies.

But a senior US administration official cast doubt on that claim, saying that while the Huthis said they used 10 drones, one Saudi oil facility was hit “at least 17 times,” and another twice by “precision-guided munitions.”

Additionally, neither the type of drone “nor the cruise missiles employed in the attack can reach the facilities from Yemen. It’s not possible,” the official said.

The Huthis are at war with Saudi-backed forces in Yemen, turning the impoverished nation into a proxy battlefield for Tehran and Riyadh.

Observers say the torrid experience in Yemen, where despite their vast firepower, the Saudis have failed to subdue the ragtag but highly motivated militia, has made Riyadh circumspect about wading into another conflict.

“I certainly hope we’re not (going to have another war),” Riyadh’s ambassador to London Prince Khalid Bin Bandar told the BBC in an interview.

“Almost certainly it’s Iranian-backed, but we are trying not to react too quickly because the last thing we need is more conflict in the region,” he said.

Iran has stuck with its account that the Huthi rebels are responsible, with Rouhani saying Wednesday that they carried out the strike as a “warning” about a possible wider war in response to the Saudi intervention in Yemen.

Support for war?

The increasingly complex conflict dovetails with the Trump administration’s attempt to curb Iranian power through a “maximum pressure” campaign of crippling economic sanctions.

Trump began that campaign after unilaterally pulling out of a 2015 international deal meant to reward Iran for allowing restrictions on its nuclear industry.

The new stage of the long-running US-Iranian standoff has raised speculation over whether it will lead to conflict.

Trump called off a retaliatory missile attack on Iran in June after the Iranians shot down a spy drone.

He said he did not want to kill what generals told him could be up to 150 people.

Trump’s administration is considering responses to the latest attack, including a cyber attack or a physical strike on Iranian oil infrastructure or its Revolutionary Guards, NBC News reported, citing unnamed US officials.

Oil prices have see-sawed since the attacks, with record gains Monday followed by a tumble Tuesday as the Saudi assurances on supply soothed the markets.

AFP