Hand of Iran and Iraqi proxies seen in Ras Tanura attack

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Houthis

Houthis

IRGC – Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

IRGC – Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

There are growing indications that Iran and its proxy militias in Iraq were directly involved in the attack that targeted the Ras Tanura port and Aramco facilities in eastern Saudi Arabia.

The attack was the second of its kind after the attack on the Abqaiq and Khurais facilities in September of last year, which was described by then-US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as an “unprecedented act of war.”

The Wall Street Journal quoted an adviser at the Saudi Royal Court as confirming that the source of the attack could have been Iran or Iraq.

The indirect Saudi accusations of Iran being behind the operation became more obvious after an official source in the Saudi energy ministry said the oil storage yard at Ras Tanura, the site of an oil refinery and the world’s biggest offshore oil loading facility, was attacked by a drone “coming from the sea.” Military experts said the drone’s trajectory could not have started from Yemeni territory.

The Saudi defence ministry also said “it intercepted an armed drone coming from the sea prior to hitting its target at an oil storage yard at Ras Tanura, site of a refinery and the world’s biggest offshore oil loading facility.”

Riyadh responded to the Houthi escalation by announcing the launch of a military operation that included strikes on military targets in Sana’a and other Houthi-controlled provinces in northern Yemen.

Some speculated that the Houthi escalation’s objectives were to neutralise the Arab coalition’s air forces in order to facilitate the fall of the Marib governorate to the Houthis and hence improve their negotiating position at final settlement talks. Others linked the escalation to the pressures exerted by the Iranian regime in order to obtain concessions from the international community on the nuclear file.

Through the recent escalation, Tehran seems to be trying to take advantage of the conflicting signals coming from the US and from the European Union’s prioritisation of the return to the nuclear deal.

The Saudi government has indicated that it sees the recent attacks on oil installations in eastern Saudi Arabia as an escalation that carries huge risks for the global economy.

“Such acts of sabotage do not only target the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but also the security and stability of energy supplies to the world, and therefore, the global economy,” a ministry spokesman said in a statement on state media.

The official source warned that the attacks could jeopardise the security and stability of energy supplies in the world due to the impact of these actions on the security of petroleum exports and maritime traffic besides exposing the region’s territorial waters to the risk of major environmental disasters.

Colonel Turki al-Malki, spokesman of the Saudi defence ministry and the Saudi-led military coalition, said in a statement that the ministry would take “all necessary, deterrent measures to safeguard its national assets.”

Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree quickly claimed responsbility for the operation, which he said was carried out using 14 drones and 8 ballistic missiles.

With fingers pointed at pro-Iranian militias in Iraq, which were accused last year of being behind the attack on the Abqaiq facility, the Iranian regime now stands more directly accused of involvement in attacks on Saudi facilities. Tehran was previously suspected only of supplying their Houthi proxies with missiles and drones.

That kind of smuggling has not stopped, according to Riyadh. The Saudi defence ministry spokesman reiterated Saudi accusations that Iran is smuggling missiles and drones to Houthi militias, allowing the latter to intensify their cross-border attacks on the kingdom.

Malki said in a press statement on Monday that “the ballistic missiles and explosive-laden drones were smuggled by the Iranian regime to the Houthis.”

Houthi operations against Saudi Arabia have escalated since Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officer Hassan Erlo was appointed ambassador to the Houthi government in Sana’a.

Different sources say Tehran is in full control of the Houthi militia operations room and directs it according to what serves Iranian designs in the region, even if this exacerbates the Houthis’ international isolation and triggers reprisals by the Saudi-led coalition.

The US showed a relatively firmer stand towards the Houthis on Monday.

“We condemn the egregious Houthi drone and missile attack against Saudi Aramco facilities,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

“The frequency of Huthi attacks on Saudi Arabia — attacks like these — are not the actions of a group that is serious about peace,” he said.

“The Houthis, in our view and in the view of our allies and partners, have to demonstrate their willingness to engage in a political process. They need to, quite simply, stop attacking and start negotiating.”

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki also said on Monday that the administration of US President Joe Biden is alarmed by the escalating Houthi attacks and that Saudi Arabia faces “genuine security threats” from Yemen’s Iran-allied Houthi movement and elsewhere in the region.

“We of course continue to work in close cooperation with the Saudis, given the threat,” Psaki told a daily news briefing.

Washington was previously criticised for reversing the houthis’ terror designation. The decision was linked by Gulf analysts to the Iran-backed militias’ efforts to escalate their military moves in Yemen.

In a new indication of Tehran’s control over Houthi action in Yemen and of war and peace decisions there, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said that “the roots of the Yemeni crisis go back to the war launched by Saudi Arabia, and accusations against Tehran will not solve the crisis.”

The spokesman added that “Tehran is ready to help effectively in ending the Yemeni crisis, in the event that Riyadh ends the war.”

“Ending the war in Yemen and lifting the siege on it will lead to a diplomatic settlement of the crisis,” he added.

Observers believe that the Houthi escalation is likely to backfire by increasing Western opposition to the Houthis’ behaviour and reducing objections to Saudi-led military action.

On Sunday, the coalition resumed its operations after a relatively long pause. The strikes were justified by the coalition as a response to Houthi attacks, stressing that the operation “is consistent with international humanitarian law and its customary rules.”

The outcome of the Houthi escalation remains uncertain.

There is a possibility it could push the international community to intensify its efforts towards a peaceful settlement of the conflict.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Monday: “It’s really quite simple – such actions are detrimental to the mediation efforts being carried out by our special envoy Martin Griffiths.”

But if the suspected involvement of Iraqi militias in attacks on Saudi Arabia is part of a new Iran-backed strategy, analysts say, this could mean that the circle of fire could extend to other fronts where Iranian proxies are ready to carry out Tehran’s regional and international agenda despite the greater risks this would pose to regional stability, not to mention delaying any peaceful settlement in Yemen.

Source » thearabweekly

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