Yemen's Houthi rebels strike Saudi airport ahead of Mike Pompeo visit

The Japan Times

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - One person was killed and seven others were wounded in an attack by Iranian-allied Yemeni rebels on an airport in the kingdom Sunday evening as U.S. Secretary of State was on his way to the country for talks on Iran, Saudi Arabia said. Regional tensions have flared in recent days, The U.S. abruptly called off military strikes against Iran in response to the shooting down of an unmanned American surveillance drone. The Trump administration has vowed to combine a "maximum pressure" campaign of economic sanctions with a buildup of American forces in the region, following the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. A new set of U.S. sanctions on Iran are expected to be announced Monday. The Sunday attack by the Yemeni rebels, known as Houthis, targeted the Saudi airport in Abha.


High-gear diplomacy aims to avert U.S.-Iran conflict

The Japan Times

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES โ€“ A flurry of diplomatic visits and meetings crisscrossing the Persian Gulf have driven urgent efforts in recent days to defuse the possibility of all-out war after the U.S. killed Iran's top military commander. Global leaders and top diplomats are repeating the mantra of "de-escalation" and "dialog," yet none has publicly laid out a path to achieving either. The United States and Iran have said they do not want war, but fears have grown that the crisis could spin out of Tehran's or Washington's control. Tensions have careened from one crisis to another since President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from Iran's nuclear deal with world powers. The U.S. drone strike that killed Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani and a senior Iraqi militia leader in Baghdad on Jan. 3 was seen as a major provocation.


New questions emerge after Iran belatedly admits to downing Ukraine airliner

The Japan Times

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES โ€“ Iran's acknowledgement that it shot down a Ukrainian airliner, killing 176 people, raises new challenges for the Islamic Republic both externally amid tensions with the U.S. and internally as it deals with growing discontent from its people. The country did itself no favors by having its air-crash investigators, government officials and diplomats deny for days that a missile downed the flight, though a commander said Saturday that he had raised that possibility to his superiors as early as Wednesday, the day of the crash. While its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard took responsibility, the same commander claimed it warned Tehran to close off its airspace amid fears of U.S. retaliation over Iran launching ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces. That retaliation never came, but the worries proved to be enough to allegedly scare a missile battery into opening fire on the Boeing 737 operated by Ukrainian International Airlines. Wider tensions between Iran and the U.S., inflamed after Iran's top general was killed in Iraq by a U.S. drone strike on Jan. 3, have for the moment calmed.


In UAE, Trump's adviser warns Iran of 'very strong response' to any attack

The Japan Times

ABU DHABI - President Donald Trump's national security adviser warned Iran on Wednesday that any attacks in the Persian Gulf will draw a "very strong response" from the U.S., taking a hard-line approach with Tehran after his boss only two days earlier said America wasn't "looking to hurt Iran at all." John Bolton's comments are the latest amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran that have been playing out in the Middle East. Bolton spoke to journalists in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, which only days earlier saw former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warn there that "unilateralism will not work" in confronting the Islamic Republic. The dueling approaches highlight the divide over Iran within American politics. The U.S. has accused Tehran of being behind a string of incidents this month, including the alleged sabotage of oil tankers off the Emirati coast, a rocket strike near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and a coordinated drone attack on Saudi Arabia by Yemen's Iran-allied Houthi rebels. On Wednesday, Bolton told journalists that there had been a previously unknown attempt to attack the Saudi oil port of Yanbu as well, which he also blamed on Iran.


Aramco attacks show firm's entanglement in Saudi politics

The Japan Times

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES โ€“ The weekend drone attack on one of the world's largest crude oil processing plants that dramatically cut into global oil supplies is the most visible sign yet of how Aramco's stability and security is directly linked to that of its owner -- the Saudi government and its ruling family. The strikes, which U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed on Iran despite staunch denials by Tehran, led to suspension of more than 5 percent of the world's daily crude oil production, bringing into focus just how vulnerable the company is to Saudi Arabia's conflicts outside the country's borders, particularly with regional rival Iran. That matters greatly because Aramco produces and exports Saudi Arabia's more than 9.5 million barrels of oil per day to consumers around the world, primarily in Asia. It also comes as the state-owned company heads toward a partial public sale. To prepare for an initial public offering, the company has recently taken steps to distance itself from the Saudi government, which is controlled by the Al Saud ruling family.