Saudi Arabia Vows to Take Action After Attacks, as Iran Warns of Retaliation Across Middle East to Any Strikes

Saudi Arabia has vowed to take new measures in response to recent attacks against its oil facilities, while Iran warned any strikes against the Islamic Republic will be met with a regional retaliation.

During a call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Saudi King Salman referred to recent attacks on the Abqaiq oil-processing facility and the nearby Khurais oil field as a serious escalation and a major threat to regional security and stability, as well as oil supplies in the world market, according to the official Saudi Press Agency. He also promised to take appropriate action on behalf of Saudi Arabia when the investigation to identify the culprit is complete.

The strikes were claimed by Ansar Allah, also known as the Houthis. They are members of the Zaidi branch of Shiite Islam and are battling a Saudi-led coalition in neighboring Yemen. The group has launched a number of cross-border operations, but both Saudi Arabia and the United States have increasingly indicated that Iran was behind the recent strikes.

With Tehran repeatedly denying any role in the attacks, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's military adviser Yahya Rahim Safavi issued a new warning Friday.

"The Iranian nation has become an invincible regional power in West Asia," he told a gathering of worshipers, according to the semi-official Tasnim News Agency. "If the Americans think of any conspiracy, we will respond from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean."

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A destroyed installation in Saudi Arabia's Khurais oil processing plant is pictured on September 20. The attack was claimed by Yemen's Houthi movement, but Saudi Arabia and the United States have increasingly blamed Iran. FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images

In addition to the Houthis' close political alignment with Tehran, Iran has maintained strong ties to various powerful groups across the Middle East, including in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and the Palestinian-administered Gaza Strip—all allegedly targets of an expansive campaign by Iran's other major regional foe, Israel.

Tehran's ties with such forces were among the reasons cited by President Donald Trump in his decision to leave a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, despite the agreement still being supported by China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Union.

The unilateral U.S. exit and heavy sanctions on the Islamic Republic have led to increased instability in the Persian Gulf region, especially in recent months, where Iran has cracked down on traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, the world's most important oil choke point, and unclaimed attacks have targeted ships in the Gulf of Oman. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have blamed those acts on Iran, which has dismissed the accusations.

As for Saturday's strikes, the Saudi Defense Ministry has argued that evidence suggesting a north-south direction of the drones and cruise missiles said to have been employed and the "advanced capability" they demonstrated suggested it was not the Houthis that launched the attack, though the kingdom was still "working to know exactly the launch point." The U.S. appeared split, with the Pentagon awaiting the results of the Saudi investigation and the State Department outright holding Iran responsible.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has from the beginning blamed Iran and called the attacks "an act of war." Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif then warned that even a limited strike would lead to an "all-out war," as President Donald Trump reportedly reviewed the options presented to him by his national security team.

The president opted to further double down on sanctions against Iran, targeting the country's central bank. Addressing concerns that military action was in the works, Trump told reporters that "is the easiest thing I could do," but argued that "it shows far more strength to do it the way we're doing it." He added, "Restraint is a good thing."

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends a military parade in Tehran on April 18. Iran has developed the region's largest missile arsenal, which it argues is necessary to deter potential aggression from the U.S, Israel and Saudi Arabia. AFP/Getty Images

Though Trump too has held off on directly naming Iran as the perpetrator of Saturday's strikes against Saudi Arabia, with whom he has closely aligned himself, the Treasury Department's press release regarding the new sanctions indicated that Secretary Steve Mnuchin shared Pompeo's view. Mnuchin was quoted as saying that "Iran's brazen attack against Saudi Arabia is unacceptable."

"In a failed attempt to disrupt the global economy, the Islamic Republic of Iran attacked the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," the State Department said in a separate statement. "This act of aggression was sophisticated in its planning and brazen in its execution. Regardless of transparent attempts to shift blame, the evidence points to Iran—and only Iran."

The leader of one of Iran's most powerful allies abroad, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, called on Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the U.S. to end the war in Yemen and warned Riyadh specifically that Tehran would "destroy" it if it tried to instigate a war. The Lebanese Shiite Muslim cleric added, "Your house is made of glass, and your economy is made of glass."

Other international players have adopted a more cautious approach to the unrest, which disrupted the global energy market. As Xi reportedly conveyed to King Salman during their call, China has condemned the attacks but has joined Russia in calling for a thorough investigation without prejudgment.