Iran suggests oil attacks orchestrated to spark conflict

U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress aircraft from Barksdale Air Force Base Louisiana arrive at Al Udeid Air Base Qatar Saturday

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The East-West Pipeline was partly designed as a contingency against Iran blocking Saudi oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz.

Saudi Aramco has taken all necessary measures and temporarily shut down the pipeline to evaluate its condition, the report said.

The attacks followed reports of sabotage against oil tankers in the Persian Gulf off the coast of the United Arab Emirates on Sunday, with tensions rising between the USA and Iran.

USA national security agencies believe proxies sympathetic to or working for Iran may have sabotaged the tankers off the UAE coast rather than Iranian forces themselves, a US official familiar with the latest US assessments said on Tuesday.

A USA official familiar with American intelligence said Iran was a leading candidate for having carried out the attacks but the United States does not have conclusive proof.

Tensions have risen in the year since President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, restoring U.S. sanctions that have pushed Iran's economy into crisis.

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The kingdom's Energy Minister Khalid Al Falih said the attacks caused a fire but no injuries or disruption to oil production at the two pumping stations and pipeline between Eastern province and Yanbu province.

Amid escalation of tensions between arch rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia, the incident adds to the rising tensions in the region as Fujairah is close to the strategically crucial waterway Strait of Hormuz.

As tensions escalate between the United States and Iran, Europe has urged all sides to avoid further escalation.

The attacks come after Saudi confirmed that two of its oil tankers were among the four vessels attacked off the coast of the UAE on Sunday. Iraq sees billions of dollars in cross-border trade with Iran and has close ties with Tehran after it stepped in to fill the political vacuum following the 2003 USA invasion. U.S. oil prices rose 1.4 per cent even though Saudi's state-owned oil company Aramco told CNN that the attack caused "no damage to oil production, no oil spills or injuries".

Al-Falih said the drone attacks reaffirm the need of the global community to confront the activities of groups like the Houthis, whom he accused of being backed by Iran, Saudi Arabia's regional rival.

No oil was spilled but the attack did significant damage to the vessels' structures, he said. (Maxar Technologies/The Associated Press) A boom was around the A. Michel, suggesting a possible oil leak. But it demonstrated the raised risks for shippers in a region vital to global energy supplies as tensions are increasing between the US and Iran over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.

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Emirati officials are investigating the incident.

"It's going to be a bad problem for Iran if something happens", he added.

The size of the force - 120,000 troops is roughly the number the USA used to invade Iraq in 2003 - has shocked some officials inside the Trump administration, the Times reported on Monday, citing unnamed national security officials.

Falih denounced the drone attack as "cowardly" and an "act of terrorism".

Iran's Foreign Ministry called the incidents "worrisome and dreadful" and asked for an investigation.

The heavy-handedness of Saudi Arabia's operations in Yemen has indeed wrought worldwide condemnation.

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The Pentagon said Friday that it was deploying an amphibious assault ship and a Patriot missile battery to the Middle East to bolster an aircraft carrier force sent to counter alleged threats from Iran.

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