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Saudi Arabia joins US maritime Gulf operation

September 18, 2019

The Saudi government has defended its decision, saying it must "deter and counter threats to maritime navigation and global trade." Iran has accused Saudi Arabia and the United States of inciting conflict in the region.

Intelligence Specialist 1st Class Joshua Lajiness, assigned to amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4), stands ship nautical or otherwise photographic interpretation and examination watch during a transit through the Bab al-Mandeb strait
Image: picture-alliance/ZUMAPRESS.com/U.S. Navy

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday announced its decision to join a US-led maritime security operation in the Persian Gulf days after two of its oil production facilities were targeted in an attack.

"The kingdom's accession to this international alliance comes in support of regional and international efforts to deter and counter threats to maritime navigation and global trade," reported the official state-run Saudi Press Agency, citing a defense ministry official.

US and Saudi officials have accused Iran of involvement in the attacks on the oil production facilities. US President Donald Trump earlier this week threatened a military response, saying US forces are "locked and loaded."

The freedom of navigation operation in the Persian Gulf was launched in response to attacks on several merchant vessels and oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz throughout the summer. The White House has blamed the attacks on Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard.

Map showing Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman as well as neighboring countries

Read more: Strait of Hormuz: The world's most important oil chokepoint

'We don't want war'

Tensions in the Persian Gulf have escalated over the attacks. Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility, saying they had launched several drones in a targeted assault on the oil production facilities in eastern Saudi Arabia. But US officials have cast doubt on those claims.

Unnamed US officials said there was reason to believe cruise missiles launched from southwestern Iran were used in the attack. "We don't want war with anybody but the United States prepared," said US Vice President Mike Pence.

Tehran has rejected the allegations. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country did not want to engage in a military conflict with neighboring Saudi Arabia or its allies.

"We don't want conflict in the region," Rouhani said. "Who started the conflict? Not the Yemenis. It was Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, America, certain European countries." He was referring to the five-year war in Yemen.

Read more: Opinion: Donald Trump hesitates on Iran attack — with good reason

This image provided on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, by the U.S. government and DigitalGlobe and annotated by the source, shows damage to the infrastructure at Saudi Aramco's Abaqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq, Saudi Arabia
Satellite images showed targeted attacks aimed at crippling Saudi oil production capabilitiesImage: U.S. government/Digital Globe/AP

Verification process

France announced on Wednesday that it would send a team of investigators to probe the attacks. The US has already sent a team. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to arrive in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday for consultations.

Germany, the UK and China have urged caution in attributing blame, saying efforts must be taken to verify who is responsible for the attack.

The attack cut Saudi oil production capabilities by one-third, triggering a global oil supply shortage of more than 5%.

Read more: Is a US-led war with Iran on the horizon as troops head to Saudi Arabia?

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ls/sms (AP, Reuters)