KHURAIS, Saudi Arabia: A destroyed installation in Saudi Arabia’s Khurais oil processing plant is pictured on Friday. – AFP

Any country that attacks Iran will become the “main battlefield”, the
Revolutionary Guards warned yesterday 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 Houthi
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”, Defense Secretary Mark Esper
said, noting the forces would be “defensive in nature” and focused on
air and missile defense.

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.

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

Iran’s Salami,
for his part, was speaking at Tehran’s Islamic Revolution and Holy Defense
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 defense 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. His remarks came only days after the strikes on
Saudi oil facilities claimed by Yemen’s Houthis, 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 has 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

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.

Late Friday, the
Houthis unexpectedly announced that they planned to halt all attacks on Saudi
Arabia as part of a peace initiative to end their country’s devastating
conflict, five years after they captured the capital Sanaa. Mehdi Al-Mashat,
head of the Houthis’ supreme political council, announced in a speech marking
the 2014 rebel seizure of Sanaa “the halt of all attacks against the
territory of Saudi Arabia”. He added that he hoped “the gesture would
be answered by a stronger gesture” from the Saudis, according to the rebels’
Al-Masirah television channel. “Pursuing war is not in anyone’s

Mashat said the
Houthis’ peace initiative was aimed at “bringing about peace through
serious negotiations to achieve a comprehensive national reconciliation which
does not exclude anyone”. A major goal was to “preserve the blood of
Yemenis and achieve a general amnesty”, he added. The plan calls for
rebels to “stop all attacks on Saudi territory by drones, ballistic
missiles and other means”, he said. He also called for the reopening of
Sanaa’s international airport and open access to Yemen’s Red Sea port of
Hodeida, a crucial entry point for imports and humanitarian aid.

Jubeir yesterday
took a skeptical position to the announcement from Mashat. “We judge other
parties by their deeds, actions and not by their words, so we will see
(whether) they actually do this or not,” said the Saudi minister.
“And regarding what prompted them to do this… we have to do more
intensive studies,” he said at a press conference in Riyadh.

At a ceremony in
Yemen’s capital Sanaa yesterday marking the anniversary of the 2014 rebel
seizure of the city, the Houthis again urged Saudi Arabia to take up the offer.
Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi, head of the rebels’ Higher Revolutionary Committee and
an influential political figure, warned against rejecting the proposal.
“If they refuse the initiative we will do them more harm,” he said,
adding that “any escalation will be countered by further escalation”.

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”.

Also yesterday,
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. The statement did not specify
which reports it was addressing.

On Friday, Saudi
Arabia revealed extensive damage to key oil facilities following weekend aerial
strikes that were blamed on Iran, but vowed to quickly restore full production
even as regional tensions soar. 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. “Many
critical areas of the (Abqaiq) plant were hit,” an Aramco official said,
pointing out the strikes had a high degree of precision.

A towering
stabilization column, normally silver, had been charred black with a gaping
hole blown in the shaft’s base. A separator plant also appeared ravaged in the
raids and was surrounded by scaffolding and white-helmeted workers. “There
are 112 shift workers here in normal times. Now 6,000 workers are involved in
restoration work,” said Aramco official Khaled Al-Ghamdi, pointing at
damaged infrastructure. Aramco said it was shipping technical equipment from
the US and Europe to speed up repairs.

Aramco flew
dozens of international journalists to the two sites to show it was speeding up
repairs, giving rare access to the nerve center of the world’s largest oil
producer as it seeks to shore up investor confidence ahead of a planned initial
public offering (IPO). “We will have production at the same level as
before the strike by the end of this month – we are coming back stronger,”
asserted Fahad Al-Abdulkareem, an Aramco general manager, during the visit to

Badly warped
thick metal piping – peppered with shrapnel during the aerial strikes – lay
strewn around the area of the Khurais attack. But Abdulkareem said that 30
percent of the Khurais plant was operational within 24 hours of the initial
strikes. Industry analyst Alex Schindelar, president of the Energy Intelligence
group, said that restoring sustainable production capacity to 11 million
barrels per day by the end of the month is an “ambitious target, given the
amount of repairs required”. – Agencies


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