- The Washington Times - Monday, September 16, 2019

Yemen’s Houthi rebels on Monday again claimed responsibility for the weekend’s string of devastating attacks on key Saudi oil facilities and threatened more to come.

The group’s announcement, first reported by Yemeni TV station al-Masirah, came two days after rebels took ownership of the Saturday attacks on a Saudi Aramco facility that sent shockwaves through the oil industry.

Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree, a Houthi military spokesperson, warned foreign companies to immediately pull their employees from Saudi energy facilities to avoid becoming targets or victims in future attacks.

The spokesperson cited Saudi Arabia’s ongoing role in Yemen’s civil war in threatening future strikes. The Saudi-backed government has been battling the Houthi rebel movement for four years in a conflict that has sent Yemen into a humanitarian crisis.

“Riyadh must reconsider its calculations and stop its attacks and blockade against Yemen,” the general said in his address.

Saudi officials, meanwhile, claim they have proof that the weapons that hit their facilities were in fact Iranian.

In a statement Monday, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said, “Preliminary investigations have revealed that Iranian weapons were used in the attacks and work is underway to verify the source of the attacks.”

Although the Kingdom pointed to Tehran in being responsible for the weapons, officials fell short of squarely blaming Iran for the attacks.

“The Kingdom condemns this grave attack that threatens international peace and security, and stresses that the aim of this attack is directed primarily to the global energy supply, an extension of the previous hostile acts against the pumping stations of Saudi Aramco using Iranian weapons,” the ministry tweeted.

The Trump administration also appeared to ease up on flatly faulting Iran.

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper issued a carefully worded tweet following a White House briefing that said his department “is working with our partners to address this unprecedented attack and defend the international rules-based order that is being undermined by Iran.”

President Trump later told reporters that while it “certainly looks” as though Iran carried out the attacks, he is waiting for additional intelligence to directly point the blame.

The U.S.’ newly confirmed ambassador to the United Nations, however, gave a much stronger statement directed at Iran’s role — similar to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s comments just days prior.

At a U.N. Security Council meeting on the ongoing crisis, Kelly Craft — who was confirmed by the Senate last week — said that while the U.S. is still assessing the situation, the latest information “indicates that responsibility lies with Iran.”

U.S. claims were met with guarded international skepticism as countries in the region brace for rising tensions.

The United Kingdom’s foreign secretary Dominic Raab said in a tweet that the “UK condemns the attack on the Aramco oil facilities in Saudi Arabia We will work with international partners to forge the widest and most effective response.”

Britain has faced its own conflict with Iran over the last several months stemming from Iran’s seizure of a British oil tanker in July.

Although the U.K. has partnered with the Pentagon in its joint mission to protect vessels traveling through the Persian Gulf, the foreign secretary was hesitant to directly name Iran following conversations with various allies including the U.S. and Germany.

China and Russia — who could each see repercussions to their oil industries stemming from the attacks — called out nations that have implicated Iran in the strikes.

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said it is “irresponsible to determine who should assume responsibility” for the attacks. “China’s position is that we oppose any moves that expand or intensify conflict.”

A Kremlin spokesperson advised countries “in the region and outside of it to avoid any hasty steps or conclusions.”

Following a meeting with Russian, Iranian and Turkish leaders, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered “respective assistance” to Saudi Arabia and advised the Kingdom to purchase several Russian-made air defense systems that it had previously sold to Iran and Turkey.

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani avoided mentioning the Saudi government’s claim that the weapons used in the attacks were Iranian, but rather pointed to the “Yemen problem” as the “root cause” of the attacks.

“What the Yemenis are doing is legitimate defense of themselves,” Mr. Rouhani said. “It is a reciprocation and a fundamental end to this attack can only be obtained through a political process.”

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