Iran accuses USA of ‘unacceptable’ escalation in tensions

Michael Reynolds- Pool  Getty Images

Michael Reynolds- Pool Getty Images

Prince Khalid Bin Salman, the vice minister for defense and brother of Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, said on Twitter that Tuesday's drone attack, which was claimed by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, undermined efforts to heal the divided country.

The Arab News argued the U.S. had "set a precedent" with strikes against Bashar al Assad's regime in 2017 following the chemical strikes in Khan Sheikhoun.

In recent days, the United Arab Emirates has alleged four oil tankers off its east coast were targeted in sabotage attacks, while Iranian-allied rebels in Yemen launched a coordinated drone attack on Saudi Arabia. "Tehran should not get away with any more intimidation, or be allowed to threaten global stability", it continued.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he hoped the U.S. was not heading to war with Iran as he met with Switzerland President Ueli Maurer, whose nation has served as a diplomatic conduit between the two countries.

Last week, U.S. officials said they had detected signs of Iranian preparations for potential attacks on USA forces and interests in the Middle East but did not provide any evidence to back up the claims. The same day, American visitors to the UAE were warned "of heightened tensions in the region" and urged to be vigilant, with UK Foreign Office advising caution for travellers to the UAE, as "there may also be attempts to target missiles and unmanned aerial systems (drones)". "We have exercised maximum restraints", he said.

On Wednesday, the US cited growing yet unspecified threats as it ordered the departure of non-emergency staff from Iraq, where Iran provides material and political support to several powerful militias.

Saudi Arabia's Deputy Defence Minister Khalid bin Salman tweeted Thursday that Tehran had ordered "the terrorist acts" on the pipeline.

The Houthi-run Masirah TV channel reported six air strikes and said six civilians had been killed and dozens wounded, including women and children.

Saudi Arabia responded to Tuesday's drone attack with a wave of airstrikes on Houthi targets in Yemen's rebel-held capital, Sanaa. At least 40 other people were wounded, according to Yemen's health ministry.

Fawaz Ahmed, a middle-aged broker, told The Associated Press he saw the three bodies being retrieved from the rubble - a father, his child and his wife, all buried together.

A Saudi-led coalition has been at war with the Houthis since 2015 and carries out near-daily airstrikes.

But the move added to growing fears that the long-time rivals could be on course for conflict despite both sides stressing they have no desire for war.

Some observers speculate Tehran is seeking to retaliate over Washington's decision in April to put Iran's Revolutionary Guards on a terror blacklist - a move created to stymie their activities across the Middle East. A high-ranking British general said there was no new threat from Iran or its regional proxies, something immediately rebutted by the US military's Central Command, which said its troops were on high alert, without elaborating.

Oil climbed for a third day, with Brent rising 1.4% to $72.8 in London, as Middle East tensions and falling US gasoline stockpiles kept investors on edge.

Meanwhile, the Qatar-funded satellite news broadcaster Al-Jazeera said Qatar is trying to "defuse escalating tensions".

The United Arab Emirates "won't jump the gun" to accuse Iran of sabotaging ships off its coast, a senior government official said, as rising tensions in the Gulf stoke concerns that the region is teetering on the brink of another war.

Iran recently threatened to resume higher enrichment in 60 days if no new nuclear deal is in place, beyond the level permitted by the current one between Tehran and world powers. Trump, goaded by the Saudis and the Israelis but against the advice of everyone else, unilaterally withdrew from the deal past year and imposed fresh sanctions that have devastated Iran's economy.