Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said on Tuesday that two oil pumping stations for the East-West pipeline had been hit by explosive-laden drones, calling the attack "an act of terrorism" that targeted global oil supplies.
Falih said that Saudi oil output and exports for crude and refined products were continuing without disruption, but that the state oil giant Aramco had halted oil pumping in the pipeline while the damage was evaluated and the stations were repaired, according to a statement carried by the state news agency SPA.
The top U.S. defense official presented an updated military plan to President Donald Trump's senior security aides that includes dispatching up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East in case Iran attacks American interests or escalates work on nuclear weapons, the New York Times reported on Monday.
Citing unnamed administration officials, the Times said Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented the plan at a meeting of Trump's top security aides on Thursday, with the revisions being requested by aides to National Security Adviser John Bolton.
Oil prices spiked on news of the attack on the stations, more than 200 miles (320 km) west of the capital Riyadh. Brent crude futures rose 1.38% to trade at $71.20 by 1114 GMT.
A television station run by Yemen's Houthi group said on Tuesday the Iran-aligned movement had launched drone attacks on Saudi installations, without identifying the targets or time of the attacks.
Saudi Arabia offered no immediate confirmation of the report, which comes a day after Riyadh said two of its oil tankers were among four vessels attacked off the coast of the United Arab Emirates on Sunday.
The Masirah TV report cited a Houthi military official as saying that "seven drones carried out attacks on vital Saudi installations."
It was not immediately clear if the Houthis, who are battling a Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen, were claiming responsibility for Sunday's attack near Fujairah emirate, which lies just outside the Strait of Hormuz. UAE authorities have not described the nature of that attack or who was behind it.
The Houthis have repeatedly launched drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia and claimed to have launched drone attacks on the UAE.
On Twitter, Al Masirah cited the official as saying, "This large military operation is in response to the continued aggression and blockade of our people and we are prepared to carry out more unique and harsh strikes."
Saudi Arabia and the UAE are leading the Western-backed Sunni Muslim alliance that intervened in Yemen in 2015 against the Houthis to try to restore the internationally recognised government ousted from power in the capital Sanaa in late 2014.
The conflict is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Houthis deny being puppets of Iran and say their revolution is against corruption.
IRAN IN FOCUS
The UAE has not revealed details about the nature of the attack on ships near Fujairah port, which lies just outside the Strait of Hormuz, or blamed any party or country.
Iran was a prime suspect in the sabotage on Sunday although Washington had no conclusive proof, a U.S. official familiar with American intelligence said on Monday.
Iran has denied involvement and described the attack on the four commercial vessels as "worrisome and dreadful". It has called for an investigation.
The U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia said Washington should take what he called "reasonable responses short of war" after it had determined who was behind the attacks near Fujairah.
"We need to do a thorough investigation to understand what happened, why it happened, and then come up with reasonable responses short of war," Ambassador John Abizaid told reporters in the Saudi capital Riyadh in remarks published on Tuesday.
"It's not in (Iran's) interest, it's not in our interest, it's not in Saudi Arabia’s interest to have a conflict."
The U.S. embassy in the UAE advised its citizens to maintain a high level of vigilance on heightened tensions in the region.
Washington has increased sanctions on Tehran, saying it wants to reduce Iranian oil exports to zero, after quitting the 2015 nuclear pact between Iran and global powers last year.
The U.S. Maritime Administration said last week that Iran could target U.S. commercial ships including oil tankers sailing through Middle East waterways. Tehran has called the U.S. military presence "a target" rather than a threat.
A fifth of global oil consumption passes through the Strait of Hormuz from Middle East crude producers to markets in Asia, Europe, North America and beyond. The narrow waterway separates Iran from the Arabian Peninsula.
Iran's Revolutionary Guards threatened last month to close the chokepoint if Tehran was barred from using it.
U.S. President Donald Trump wants to force Tehran to agree a broader arms control accord and has sent an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Gulf in a show of force against what U.S. officials have said are threats to U.S. troops in the region.
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