Saudis seek Arab unity over Iran after attacks
Riyadh accuses Tehran of ordering drone strikes and warns of strong response
Jeddah — Arab leaders began arriving in Saudi Arabia on Thursday for emergency summits that Riyadh hopes will deliver a strong message to Iran that regional powers will defend their interests against any threat after attacks on Gulf oil assets in May.
Saudi and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which have lobbied Washington to contain their foe Iran, said they want to avoid war after drone strikes on oil pumping stations in the kingdom and the sabotage of oil tankers off the UAE coast.
Riyadh accused Tehran of ordering the drone strikes, which were claimed by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group. A top US security official said Iranian mines were “almost certainly” used in the tanker operation. Tehran denies any involvement.
Saudi foreign minister Ibrahim al-Assaf told a gathering of his counterparts in Jeddah ahead of the summits that the attacks must be addressed with “strength and firmness”.
“While summit leaders are likely to discuss how best to avoid a war, King Salman is equally determined to defend Saudi and Arab interests amid increasing tensions between the US and Iran,” Prince Turki al-Faisal, former Saudi intelligence chief and envoy, wrote in an opinion piece published by Al Arabiya.
The meetings of Sunni Muslim Gulf leaders and Arab leaders in Mecca, would discuss Shi'ite Iran's “interference” in Arab affairs, he said.
Tensions have risen between the US and Iran after Washington quit a multinational nuclear deal with Iran, re-imposed sanctions and boosted its military presence in the Gulf.
US national security adviser John Bolton said on Wednesday the attack near a UAE bunkering hub was connected to the strike on pumping stations on the kingdom's East-West pipeline — both alternative oil shipping routes to the Strait of Hormuz — and a rocket attack on Baghdad's Green Zone.
“There is no doubt in anybody's mind in Washington who is responsible for this and I think it's important that the leadership in Iran know that we know,” Bolton said.
The US was trying to take a “prudent and responsible” approach but warned Tehran against any new attacks, he said.
An Iranian official dismissed Bolton's remarks as “a ludicrous claim”. The Islamic Republic said it would defend itself against any military or economic aggression.
During the US adviser’s visit to Abu Dhabi, officials activated a defence cooperation agreement signed earlier in 2019, between the US and the UAE, which hosts a US airbase.
Last week the Pentagon announced the deployment of 900 additional troops to the Middle East and extended the stay of another 600 service members, after speeding up deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group and sending bombers and additional Patriot missiles.
Gulf states have a joint defence force under the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), but the 39-year-old alliance has been fractured by a dispute that has seen Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and non-GCC Egypt impose a political and economic boycott on Qatar since mid-2017.
Saudi King Salman invited Qatar's ruler, whose country is home to the largest US military base in the region, to the summits. Doha is sending Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani, the highest-level Qatari official to visit the kingdom since the rift. Kuwait’s emir and Egypt’s president were among leaders who arrived on Thursday.
Iraq and Oman, which have good ties with Tehran and Washington, said they are working to reduce tensions. Doha, which shares a giant gas field with Iran, has offered to help.
Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on a trip to Iraq in May that Tehran wanted balanced ties with Gulf neighbours and proposed signing a non-aggression pact with them.
One of the UAE’s main newspapers said in an editorial, which are usually state-approved, that the offer was “bizarre”.
“No Mr Zarif. We are not buying your ‘nice neighbour’ routine,” said the front-page editorial in the Gulf News daily.