Saudi Arabia warns Iran it will respond ‘with all strength to attacks’ as US increases Gulf patrols

Jane Dalton

Saudi Arabia has said it does not want war but stands ready to respond with “all strength” to defend itself against Iran, as the US stepped up naval exercises in the Persian Gulf.

The Saudis, who have accused Tehran of ordering drone strikes five days ago on two of its oil pumping stations, told Iran the kingdom would not stand by while being attacked.

Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran are arch-adversaries in the Middle East, backing opposite sides in several regional wars.

“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not want war in the region and does not seek that... but at the same time, if the other side chooses war, the kingdom will fight this with all force and determination and it will defend itself, its citizens and its interests,” foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir said.

“We want peace and stability in the region but we won’t stand with our hands bound as the Iranians continuously attack. Iran has to understand that.

“The ball is in Iran’s court and it is up to Iran to determine what its fate will be.”

Saudi Arabia would do what it could “to prevent this war”, he said.

An Iranian military commander was similarly quoted as saying his country is not looking for war.

Fears of armed conflict have run high after the White House ordered warships and bombers to the Persian Gulf earlier this month to counter an alleged, unexplained threat from Iran. The US also has ordered non-essential staff out of diplomatic posts in Iraq.

An aircraft carrier strike group with the US Navy has stepped up security patrols in the international waters after an alleged act of sabotage on four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, off the United Arab Emirates.

Days earlier, Iran-allied Yemeni rebels claimed a drone attack on a Saudi oil pipeline.

Iran has denied involvement in either operation.

The tensions are rooted in Donald Trump’s decision last year to withdraw the US from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, and impose wide-reaching sanctions, including on Iranian oil exports that are crucial to its economy.

Iran has said it will resume enriching uranium at higher levels if a new deal is not reached by 7 July. That could potentially bring it closer to being able to develop a nuclear weapon.

Saudi Arabia’s Sunni Muslim ally the UAE has not blamed anyone for the tanker sabotage, but two US government sources said US officials believed Iran had encouraged Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group or Iraq-based Shi’ite militias to carry it out.

The Houthis have been battling a Saudi-led military coalition Yemen’s war since 2015.

An English-language Saudi newspaper close to the palace recently published an editorial calling for surgical US airstrikes in retaliation for Iran’s alleged involvement in the oil attacks.

Agencies contributed to this report