Middle Eastern oil infrastructure has been hit by a second sabotage attack in as many days amid reports that the White House has formulated a plan to send as many as 120,000 troops to the region in the event of an Iranian strike on US forces.
Saudi Arabia on Tuesday night announced important oil pipelines had been attacked by drones, while other assaults targeted energy infrastructure elsewhere in the kingdom.
Yemen’s Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility for the “coordinated drone attack” on the Sunni regime.
The attacks marked the latest incidents challenging Mideast security after four oil tankers anchored in the United Arab Emirates were damaged by what Gulf officials described as sabotage.
US military investigators have alleged Iran, or groups it supports, used explosives to damage the ships, the BBC reported.
As the American aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, and B-52 bombers make their way to the Persian Gulf to counter alleged, still-unspecified threats from Tehran, the New York Times reports plans are underway for a massive troop deployment.
Acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented a plan to top national security officials last week that would see as many as 120,000 US troops sent to the Middle East in the event of Iran strikes on American forces or speeds up its development of nuclear weapons, the New York Times reported Monday.
The report said the plan, which did not call for a land invasion of Iran, was ordered in part by national security adviser John Bolton.
The meeting occurred days after the Trump administration cited “specific and credible” intelligence that suggested Iranian forces and proxies were targeting US forces in Syria, Iraq and at sea, the NYT quoted unnamed administration officials as saying.
It was not known whether President Donald Trump was briefed on the plan before it was presented.
Mr Trump denied the report on Wednesday, dismissing it as “fake news”.
“Now would I do that? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that,” he told reporters at the White House.
“Hopefully, we’re not going to have to plan for that, and if we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that,” he said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday the US does not seek a war with Iran.
Speaking in Russia, Mr Pompeo said the US was looking for Iran to behave like a “normal country”, but would respond if its interests were attacked.
Mr Pompeo, who earlier met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, said while US “fundamentally” did not seek a conflict with Iran, “if American interests are attacked, we will most certainly respond in an appropriate fashion”.
Tensions in the Middle East have risen since Mr Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, and restored US sanctions that have pushed Iran’s economy into crisis.
Iran last week warned it would begin enriching uranium at higher levels in 60 days if world powers failed to negotiate new terms for the deal.