Kuwait probes drone sighting, PM promises tougher security

Saudi races to restore oil supply – Iraq denies links to attack – Iran refutes US accusations

A satellite image provided by NASA Worldview on Saturday shows fires following drone strikes on two major oil installation owned by the state giant Aramco in eastern Saudi Arabia. – AFP

KUWAIT/RIYADH: Kuwait is investigating the sighting of a drone over its territory and is coordinating with Saudi Arabia and other countries after Saturday’s attacks on Saudi oil plants, the Cabinet said yesterday. “The security leadership has started the necessary investigations over the sighting of a drone over the coastline of Kuwait City and what measures were taken to confront it,” the Cabinet said on its Twitter account.
It said HH the Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah directed military and security officers to tighten security at vital installations in the country and to take all necessary measures “to protect Kuwait’s security”, keeping in mind the wellbeing of citizens and residents alike. Several MPs had earlier questioned the interior ministry and the government for remaining silent over a report that claimed that a drone breached Kuwait’s airspace over the coast and came close to HH the Amir’s palace. The lawmakers demanded swift investigation into the issue, just before the government held a special meeting and decided to launch a probe into the issue.

MP Mohammad Hayef asked the interior minister if there were incidents in which drones violated the Kuwaiti airspace and demanded to know when that happened and for how many times. MP Riyadh Al-Adasani and Osama Al-Shaheen also demanded that the government be transparent and announce details of the reported drone. Some Iraqi media outlets have said Saturday’s attack on Saudi oil facilities came from Iraq. But Baghdad denied this yesterday and vowed to punish anyone using Iraq, where Iran-backed paramilitary groups wield increasing power, as a launch pad for attacks in the region.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia raced yesterday to restart operations at oil plants hit by the drone attacks which slashed its production by half, as Iran dismissed US claims it was behind the assault. The Tehran-backed Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is bogged down in a five-year war, have claimed Saturday’s strikes on two plants owned by state giant Aramco.

But United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pointed the finger squarely at Tehran, saying there was no evidence the “unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply” was launched from Yemen. “The United States will work with our partners and allies to ensure that energy markets remain well supplied and Iran is held accountable for its aggression,” the top US diplomat added.

That drew an angry response from Tehran, where foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said: “Such fruitless and blind accusations and remarks are incomprehensible and meaningless.” The remarks were designed to damage Iran’s reputation and provide a pretext for “future actions” against the Islamic republic, he added. “The Americans have taken the policy of ‘maximum pressure’ which has apparently turned into ‘maximum lying’ due to their failures,” said Mousavi.

Baghdad, caught between its two main sponsors – Tehran and Washington – also denied any link to the attacks amid media speculation that the drones were launched from Iraq. “Iraq is constitutionally committed to preventing any use of its soil to attack its neighbors,” Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi said in a statement. “The Iraqi government will be extremely firm with whomever tries to violate the constitution.”

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose nation is pitted against Iran in a decades-old struggle for regional dominance, has said the kingdom is “willing and able” to respond to this “terrorist aggression”. The kingdom focused on restoring production at the plants, as the Saudi bourse slumped three percent as the week’s trading began yesterday morning.

Saturday’s explosions set off fires that engulfed the Abqaiq plant, the world’s largest oil processing facility, and nearby Khurais, which hosts a massive oil field. Saudi’s energy infrastructure has been hit by the Houthis many times before, but this strike was of a different order, abruptly halting 5.7 million barrels per day (bpd) or about six percent of the world’s oil supply.

The full extent of the damage was not clear, nor the type of weapons used, and reporters were kept away from the plants amid beefed-up security. Saudi interior ministry spokesman Mansour Al-Turki told AFP there were no casualties in the attacks. Aramco has said it will dip into its reserves to offset the disruption, but the incident could affect investor confidence as its stock market debut looms.

As markets closely watch Saudi’s ability to get its industry back on track, Aramco CEO Amin Nasser said Saturday that “work is underway” to restore full production. And newly appointed Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said part of the drop would be offset by drawing on vast storage facilities designed to be tapped in times of crisis. Riyadh, the world’s top crude exporter, has built five giant underground storage facilities across the country that can hold tens of millions of barrels of various refined petroleum products.

Following a phone call between US President Donald Trump and Prince Mohammed, the White House condemned the attacks on “infrastructure vital to the global economy”. The UN’s Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths said he was “extremely concerned” over the latest attacks, which also drew swift condemnation from Riyadh’s Gulf allies, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait.

Saudi Arabia has spent billions on military hardware but recent events have underscored its infrastructure’s vulnerability to attack. While the kingdom’s oil wells, scattered over a vast area, may be tough to hit, its various oil processing facilities are much more exposed. In recent months, the Houthis have staged repeated cross-border missile and drone attacks targeting Saudi air bases and other facilities in what they say is retaliation for the Riyadh-led bombing campaign on rebel-held areas in Yemen.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani accused Washington of diverting blame for the war in Yemen, where US ally Saudi Arabia leads a military coalition that has regularly carried out air strikes. “Today, witness that innocents die every day in Yemen … Americans, instead of blaming themselves – and confessing that their presence in the region is creating problems – blame the region’s countries or Yemen’s people,” Rouhani said.

“If we want there to be real security in the region, the solution is that America’s aggression cease,” Iran’s president added, before leaving for Ankara to attend a trilateral meeting on Syria with Turkey and Russia. “We believe the region’s issues can be solved through talks in Yemen, Yemeni-Yemeni negotiations – they must decide for themselves. The bombardment of Yemeni people must stop,” Rouhani said.

The attack comes after Trump said a meeting with Rouhani was possible at the United Nations General Assembly in New York this month. Tehran has ruled out talks until sanctions are lifted. White House adviser Kellyanne Conway did not rule out a possible meeting between the two but told “Fox News Sunday” that the strikes “did not help” that prospect.

In remarks published yesterday, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ aerospace arm said Iran’s missiles could hit US bases and ships within a range of 2,000 km. “Neither us nor the Americans want a war,” Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh said, quoted by Tasnim news agency, which is considered close to the Guards. “Of course, some forces facing each other in the field could do something, by which a war could start,” the commander said. “We have always prepared ourselves for a full-fledged war… everyone should know that all American bases and their vessels in a 2,000-kilometre range can be targeted by our missiles,” he added. – Agencies