U.S. President Donald Trump issued a new threat to Tehran on Sunday, tweeting that a conflict would be the "official end" of Iran, as Saudi Arabia warned it stood ready to respond with "all strength" and said it was up to Iran to avoid war.
The heightened rhetoric follows last week's attacks on Saudi oil assets and the firing of a rocket into Baghdad's heavily fortified "Green Zone" on Sunday, home to government buildings and foreign embassies.
"If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!" Trump said in a tweet without elaborating.
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Riyadh, which emphasized that it does not want a war, has accused Tehran of ordering Tuesday's drone strikes on two oil pumping stations in the kingdom, claimed by Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi group. Two days earlier, four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
In response, countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) began "enhanced security patrols" in the international waters of the Arabian Gulf area on Saturday, the U.S. Navy's Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet said on Sunday.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has dismissed the possibility of war erupting, saying Tehran did not want conflict and no country had the "illusion it can confront Iran". This stance was echoed by the head of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards on Sunday.
Iran has denied involvement in either incident, which come as Washington and the Islamic Republic spar over sanctions and the U.S. military presence in the region, raising concerns about a potential U.S.-Iran conflict.
Last week the United States pulled some diplomatic staff from its Baghdad embassy following attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf.
President Trump has bolstered economic sanctions and built up U.S. military presence in the region, accusing Iran of threats to U.S. troops and interests. Tehran has described those steps as "psychological warfare" and a "political game".
"The fact is that Trump has officially said and reiterated again that he does not want a war, but people around him are pushing for war on the pretext that they want to make America stronger against Iran," Zarif said.
He told Reuters last month that Trump could be lured into a conflict by the likes of U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, an ardent Iran hawk.
In a sign of the heightened tension across the region, Exxon Mobil evacuated foreign staff from an oilfield in neighboring Iraq after days of sabre rattling between Washington and Tehran.
Elsewhere in the Gulf, Bahrain warned its citizens against traveling to Iraq or Iran due to "unstable conditions."
In Washington, officials urged U.S. commercial airliners flying over the waters of the Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to exercise caution.
A Norwegian insurers' report seen by Reuters said Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards were "highly likely" to have facilitated the attacks last Sunday on four tankers including two Saudi ships off Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates.
In Tehran, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards named a new head of the force's intelligence unit on Saturday, the Fars news agency reported.
Iranian officials have denied involvement in the tanker attacks, saying Tehran's enemies carried them out to lay the groundwork for war against Iran.
U.S. officials, however, are concerned that Tehran may have passed naval combat expertise onto proxy forces in the region.
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