WASHINGTON, DUBAI: The US announced on Friday that it was sending military reinforcements to the Gulf region following attacks on Saudi oil facilities that it attributes to Iran, just hours after President Donald Trump ordered new sanctions on Tehran.
Separately, Iran’s foreign minister on Saturday denounced renewed US sanctions against its central bank as an attempt to deny ordinary Iranians access to food and medicine.
Iran denies involvement in the attacks, which initially halved oil output from Saudi Arabia. Responsibility was claimed by Yemen’s Houthi militants, an Iranian-aligned group fighting an Arab alliance in Yemen’s civil war.
“But this is dangerous and unacceptable as an attempt at blocking … the Iranian people’s access to food and medicine,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters in remarks shown on state television.
Zarif was speaking after arriving in New York for the annual UN General Assembly next week.
Trump said the sanctions were the toughest-ever against another country, but indicated he did not plan a military strike, calling restraint a sign of strength.
The Treasury Department renewed action against Iran’s central bank after US officials said Tehran carried out weekend attacks on rival Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure, which triggered a spike in global crude prices.
Those attacks, combined with an Iranian attack on an American spy drone in June, represented a “dramatic escalation of Iranian aggression,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said.
The Pentagon chief announced that the US would send military reinforcements to the Gulf region at the request of Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
“In response to the kingdom’s request, the president has approved the deployment of US forces, which will be defensive in nature, and primarily focused on air and missile defense,” Esper said.
However Joint Chiefs of Staff Joe Dunford categorized the deployment as “moderate,” with the number of troops not expected to reach thousands.
Meanwhile, there were reports on social media that a number of Iranian servers and websites — including those of some petrochemical firms — were under a cyberattack. There was no immediate official comment, and the websites of the main state oil company NIOC appeared to be functioning normally. Residents said their Internet access was not affected.
NetBlocks, an organization that monitors internet connectivity, said its data showed “intermittent disruptions” to some internet services in Iran starting from Friday evening.
But the group said the impact was limited, affecting only specific providers, and the cause was unclear.
“Data are consistent with a cyber-attack or unplanned technical incident on affected networks as opposed to a purposeful withdrawal or shutdown incident,” it said in a tweet.
The fresh sanctions target the Central Bank of Iran, which was already under other US sanctions, the National Development Fund of Iran — the country’s sovereign wealth fund — and an Iranian company that US officials say is used to conceal financial transfers for Iranian military purchases.