US sending more troops to Gulf, as Iran begins to feel the sanction pinch

Iran flexes military muscles by putting missiles on display at a museum during the unveiling of an exhibition in Tehran on Saturday. (AFP)
Updated 21 September 2019

US sending more troops to Gulf, as Iran begins to feel the sanction pinch

  • Tehran carried out weekend attacks on rival Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure, which triggered a spike in global crude prices

WASHINGTON, DUBAI: The US announced on Friday that it was sending military reinforcements to the Gulf region following attacks on Saudi oil facilities that it attributes to Iran, just hours after President Donald Trump ordered new sanctions on Tehran.

Separately, Iran’s foreign minister on Saturday denounced renewed US sanctions against its central bank as an attempt to deny ordinary Iranians access to food and medicine.

Iran denies involvement in the attacks, which initially halved oil output from Saudi Arabia. Responsibility was claimed by Yemen’s Houthi militants, an Iranian-aligned group fighting an Arab alliance in Yemen’s civil war.

“But this is dangerous and unacceptable as an attempt at blocking ... the Iranian people’s access to food and medicine,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters in remarks shown on state television.

Zarif was speaking after arriving in New York for the annual UN General Assembly next week.

Sanctions ‘toughest’

Trump said the sanctions were the toughest-ever against another country, but indicated he did not plan a military strike, calling restraint a sign of strength.

The Treasury Department renewed action against Iran’s central bank after US officials said Tehran carried out weekend attacks on rival Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure, which triggered a spike in global crude prices.

Those attacks, combined with an Iranian attack on an American spy drone in June, represented a “dramatic escalation of Iranian aggression,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said.

The Pentagon chief announced that the US would send military reinforcements to the Gulf region at the request of Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

“In response to the kingdom’s request, the president has approved the deployment of US forces, which will be defensive in nature, and primarily focused on air and missile defense,” Esper said.

However Joint Chiefs of Staff Joe Dunford categorized the deployment as “moderate,” with the number of troops not expected to reach thousands.

Meanwhile, there were reports on social media that a number of Iranian servers and websites — including those of some petrochemical firms — were under a cyberattack. There was no immediate official comment, and the websites of the main state oil company NIOC appeared to be functioning normally. Residents said their Internet access was not affected.

NetBlocks, an organization that monitors internet connectivity, said its data showed “intermittent disruptions” to some internet services in Iran starting from Friday evening.

But the group said the impact was limited, affecting only specific providers, and the cause was unclear. 

“Data are consistent with a cyber-attack or unplanned technical incident on affected networks as opposed to a purposeful withdrawal or shutdown incident,” it said in a tweet.

The fresh sanctions target the Central Bank of Iran, which was already under other US sanctions, the National Development Fund of Iran — the country’s sovereign wealth fund — and an Iranian company that US officials say is used to conceal financial transfers for Iranian military purchases.


Saudi-led military committee moves heavy weapons outside Aden

Updated 25 January 2020

Saudi-led military committee moves heavy weapons outside Aden

  • The internationally recognized government and the separatist Southern Transitional Council are obliged to hand over their heavy weapons

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A military committee led by Saudi officers in Yemen has transported heavy weapons from bases in the southern port city of Aden, a committee member told Arab News on Friday. 

“We’ve moved tanks, cannons and ammunition from Aden military bases to a military outpost in Ras Abbas, on the outskirts of Aden,” said the member on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Under the Riyadh Agreement, the internationally recognized government and the separatist Southern Transitional Council are obliged to hand over their heavy weapons to the Saudi-led military committee, which is tasked with collecting them at a location outside Aden before dispatching them to battlefields. 

The committee is also charged with making other security and military arrangements, including the withdrawal of forces from the southern provinces of Shabwa and Abyan. 

The Riyadh Agreement, signed in the Saudi capital in November, was designed to defuse tensions between both sides following bloody clashes last year in Aden, Shabwa and Abyan. 

Residents in Aden reported seeing columns of lorries carrying tanks leaving military bases and heading to the city’s outskirts.

Despite failing to meet some deadlines included in the Riyadh Agreement, many of its terms have been implemented.

These include the return of the prime minister, the partial withdrawal of forces, an exchange of prisoners and the process of disarmament.

Following the relocation of military units, Yemen’s President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi is expected to appoint a new governor for Aden before forming a new government.

FASTFACT

Under the Riyadh Agreement, the internationally recognized government and the separatist Southern Transitional Council are obliged to hand over their heavy weapons to the Saudi-led military committee.

On the battlefield, heavy fighting continued on Friday in the Nehim district just outside Houthi-held Sanaa as government forces, backed by Saudi-led warplanes, pushed forward to pave the way for the liberation of the capital. Dozens have been killed since Wednesday as both sides claimed gains on the ground.

In Marib, senior army commanders on Friday said the army would keep pressing its offensive until the Houthis are expelled from Sanaa. 

At a meeting attended by the Saudi-led coalition commander in Marib, Maj. Gen. Abdul Hamed Al-Muzaini, Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Mohammed Ali Al-Maqdashi said the Yemeni Army is determined to push the Houthis out of Sanaa and other areas under their control, and to work on restoring state institutions. 

The commanders discussed military plans and the recent escalation of fighting in Nehim, Jouf and Marib.

The conflict in Yemen began in late 2014 when the Houthis seized Sanaa and began expanding across the country.

A military coalition led by Saudi Arabia has helped government forces advance on all fronts, pushing the Houthis to mountainous provinces in northern Yemen.