Fears that Iran was about to attack American targets in the Middle East were sparked by pictures of fully-assembled missiles loaded on to the back of boats in the Persian Gulf, it has been claimed.
Iranian paramilitary forces were seen loading the weapons on to small craft, amid concern that the Revolutionary Guards would fire them at US navy vessels.
Additional intelligence reported threats to commercial ships and potential attacks by Iranian-backed militias on American troops in Iraq, which, taken together, led the US to believe an attack was imminent.
American warnings of a ‘credible threat’ against its forces in the Middle East have sent tensions across the region soaring, as Arab nations including Saudi, UAE and Iran insisted they were ready for a war but didn’t want one.
Amid the mounting crisis in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia this morning directly blamed Iran for ordering drone attacks on its oil pipelines on Tuesday.
Iran-backed Houthi rebels in neighbouring Yemen had claimed responsibility for the attacks which saw explosive-laden drones hit two Aramco pumping stations.
Overhead images of fully-assembled Iranian missiles on boats in the Persian Gulf sparked fears they would be fired at US ships and prompted warnings of a ‘credible threat’ (pictured, USS Abraham Lincoln carrier group on May 8, on its way to Arabian Peninsula)
US embassy personnel were evacuated from Iraq as the Abraham Lincoln carrier group (pictured) was moved to the region, sending tensions soaring
Saudi Arabia’s deputy defence minister, Khalid bin Salman said Tuesday’s ‘proves that these militias are merely a tool that Iran’s regime uses to implement its expansionist agenda in the region,’ the prince said on Twitter.
‘The terrorist acts, ordered by the regime in Tehran, and carried out by the Houthis, are tightening the noose around the ongoing political efforts.’
The remarks threaten to further escalate tinderbox relations in the region.
Today, three security sources told the New York Times pictures of missiles being loaded on to the back of boats in the Persian Gulf presented a new kind of threat to the one previously seen from Iran, prompting embassy evacuations on Wednesday.
President Trump’s security team, and in particular National Security Adviser John Bolton, took the threat seriously enough to order the withdrawal of non-essential embassy staff from Iraq, which has been completed.
Tensions between the US and Iran, which have been building for months, peaked in recent days following attacks on oil tankers and pumping stations that Washington has blamed on Tehran.
American security experts believe Iran gave its ‘blessing’ to tanker attacks, which hit two Saudi crude oil tankers, a UAE-flagged fuel bunker barge and a Norwegian-registered oil products tanker off Fujeirah near the Strait of Hormuz.
The source said the United States believes Iran’s role was one of actively encouraging militants but indicated the United States does not now have evidence that Iranian personnel played any direct operational role.
The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (pictured) insisted he was ‘fully prepared for a confrontation with the enemy’, despite Ayatollah Khameni saying Iran did not want conflict
Houthi rebels, who are back by Iran, have already claimed responsibility for the attacks on two Saudi oil pumping stations earlier this week.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry has called the tanker attacks ‘worrisome and dreadful’ and called for an investigation.
The precariousness of the situation was underlined Wednesday as multiple nations emphasised that they are ready for war, while insisting it is the last thing they want.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said it is ‘fully prepared for a confrontation with the enemy’ and was backed by defence minister Amir Hatami who insisted ‘we will defeat the United States’ in any military confrontation.
Meanwhile Saudi Arabia struck Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen after they launched drone attacks against oil pipelines
They spoke out as foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran would show ‘maximum restraint’ despite increased threats from Washington.
Ayatollah Khameni said earlier in the week that Iran is not seeking a conflict.
Meanwhile the United Arab Emirates said it is also committed to showing restraint and de-escalation during a ‘difficult situation’, which it said was caused by Iran.
However, the government also warned that it would ‘retaliate hard’ against the Houthis if any of their oil infrastructure in Yemen comes under attack.
Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes against rebel positions in Yemen on Thursday following the pipeline attacks – part of its ongoing proxy-war in the country.
Meanwhile Qatar announced that its foreign minister had been to Tehran in recent days to try and calm the situation down.
Qatar hosts the forward headquarters of the U.S. military’s Central Command at its vast Al-Udeid Air Base, but has grown closer to Iran after it was blockaded by Saudi and four other Arab nations as part of a political dispute.
Questions have been raised about the validity of American intelligence on Iran, however, after a senior British general said he had seen no increased threat.
Major General Chris Ghika, deputy commander of anti-ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria, told reporters that he was monitoring Iran and its proxy forces but had seen no evidence of imminent danger.
The remark put him at loggerheads with US Central Command, which issued a rare rebuke to an allied commander, saying Ghika’s remarks ‘run counter to the identified credible threats.’
John Bolton (right), President Trump’s National Security Adviser, is thought to have been particularly alarmed by the threat of missile strikes
It comes after four oil tankers were hit with underwater mines in an attack that the US says was given Iran’s ‘blessing’
Houthi rebels also flew bomb-laden drones into two pipelines in Yemen, prompting a further escalation in tensions
The spokesman added: ‘As a result, (the coalition) is now at a high level of alert as we continue to monitor credible and possibly imminent threats to U.S. forces in Iraq.’
Tensions began building on Sunday when four oil tankers – including two belonging to America’s ally Saudi Arabia – were apparently sabotaged off the UAE coast.
U.S. investigators were asked to get involved and subsequently blamed Iran and its allies, with divers saying it appeared magnetic explosives were used.
That sparked a furious exchange of words between the US and Iran, with a key adviser to Iranian president Rouhani warning of a looming conflict.
He also mocked Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton, saying: ‘That’s what happens when you listen to the mustache.’
Tensions heightened further Tuesday after two pumping stations on a major Saudi oil pipeline were attacked by explosive-laden drones, halting the flow of crude along it.
Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said attacks on the pipeline from the oil-rich Eastern Province to the Red Sea took place early yesterday morning, and called it ‘an act of terrorism’ that targeted global oil supplies.
Iranian-backed Houthi rebels took responsibility for the attack, and said it was carried out using explosive-laden drones.
The Houthis are fighting against Saudi-backed forces in Yemen’s civil war, which has been raging since 2015.