Saudi pipeline back open after attack by Iran-backed militia

The official from state oil giant Aramco told AFP that the East West Pipeline "is fully operational."
Friday 17/05/2019
This satellite image provided by Planet Labs Inc. shows Saudi Aramco's Pumping Station No. 8 near al-Duadmi, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, May 14, 2019. (Planet Labs Inc via AP.)
This satellite image provided by Planet Labs Inc. shows Saudi Aramco's Pumping Station No. 8 near al-Duadmi, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, May 14, 2019. (Planet Labs Inc via AP.)

RIYADH - Saudi Arabia has reopened a key oil pipeline, an official said Thursday, after it was shut down by drone attacks claimed by Iran-aligned Yemen rebels.

The official from state oil giant Aramco told AFP that the East West Pipeline "is fully operational."

Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels had claimed responsibility Tuesday for twin drone strikes on the pipeline from the oil-rich Eastern Province to the Red Sea coast.

That came amid spiralling tensions between the United States and Iran after Washington sent a maritime strike group to the region and a series of sabotage attacks hit ships in the Gulf.

The pipeline, which can pump five million barrels of crude per day, provides a strategic alternative route for Saudi exports if the shipping lane from the Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz is closed.

Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the strait, a vital conduit for global oil supplies, in case of a military confrontation with the US.

Saudi Arabia's deputy defence minister Khalid bin Salman accused Iran of ordering the pipeline strikes, which he labelled "terrorist acts."

"The attack by the Iranian-backed Huthi militias against the two Aramco pumping stations proves that these militias are merely a tool that Iran's regime uses to implement its expansionist agenda in the region," he wrote on Twitter.

A state-aligned Saudi newspaper went further, running an editorial calling for "surgical" US strikes on Iran in retaliation. 

Iran has been accused by the US and the UN of supplying ballistic missile technology and arms to the Houthis, which Tehran denies.

The front-page editorial in the Arab News, published in English, said it's "clear that (US) sanctions are not sending the right message" and that "they must be hit hard," without elaborating on specific targets. It said the Trump administration had already set a precedent with airstrikes in Syria, when the government there was suspected of using chemical weapons

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who also is defence minister and controls major levers of power in the Sunni kingdom, has not commented publicly on this week's incidents. In a Saudi TV interview in 2017, he said the kingdom knows it is a main target of Shia Iran and there is no room for dialogue with Tehran.

A top Emirati diplomat said late Wednesday the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen would "retaliate hard" for attacks on civilian targets. 

“We will... retaliate and retaliate hard when we see the Houthis hit civilian targets within Saudi Arabia,” said UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash.

However, Gargash also said the UAE is "very committed to de-escalation" after the alleged sabotage of the tankers off the country's coast. He declined to blame Iran directly, although he repeatedly criticised Tehran.

Concerns about possible conflict have flared after the US dispatched warships and bombers to the region to counter an alleged threat from Iran.

Last week, US officials said they had detected signs of Iranian preparations for potential attacks on US forces and interests in the Middle East. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said an investigative team sent to the UAE believes that large holes in ships anchored offshore were caused by explosive charges, and they believe the damage was done by Iranian military divers. 

Iran has been hard hit by the US’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers and impose wide-reaching sanctions — the latest levied as recently as last week — that have crippled Tehran’s economy.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said during a visit to Tokyo that Iran has the right to respond to the "unacceptable" US sanctions, but has exercised "maximum restraint."

Speaking about Iran's nuclear deal with world powers, Zarif was quoted as also saying: "A multilateral deal cannot be treated unilaterally."

Iran recently said it would resume enriching uranium at higher levels if a new nuclear deal is not reached by July 7. That would potentially bring it closer to being able to develop a nuclear weapon, something Iran insists it has never sought.

(Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)