US weighs military options to keep shipping lanes safe from Iran


Saudi Gazette report

Jeddah —
The US administration is looking at military options to keep vital waterways in the Middle East open in the wake of attacks on Saudi oil tankers by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels on Wednesday, two administration officials were quoted as saying by CNN.

Two Saudi tankers were attacked in the Red Sea near the port of Hodeidah. One ship sustained minor damage and no oil was spilled, according to a statement from Saudi Aramco. The Kingdom stopped all oil shipments through the nearby Bab Al-Mandeb strait.

“In the interest of the safety of ships and their crews and to avoid the risk of oil spill, Saudi Aramco has temporarily halted all oil shipments through Bab Al-Mandeb with immediate effect. The Company is carefully assessing the situation and will take further action as prudence demands,” Saudi Aramco said in a statement on Wednesday.

US Defense Secretary James Mattis said the US was committed to keeping international oil shipping lanes open.

“Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz,” he said on Friday.

If the Iranians do move to shut down oil shipping directly, “it would have obviously an international response to reopen the shipping lanes with whatever that took because the world’s economy depends on that energy, those energy supplies flowing out of there.”

Mattis reiterated that the Pentagon would continue to work with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and the UAE to counter Iranian influence in the region.

The CNN report said that Gen. Joseph Votel — head of US Central Command, overseas US military operations in the Middle East — has been traveling in the region this week meeting with counterparts and held a conference of regional commanders to discuss security concerns.