US President Donald Trump warned Monday that Iran would “suffer greatly” were it to “do anything,” after US intelligence suggested Tehran was planning to attack US interests in the region.
“I’m hearing little stories about Iran,” Trump told reporters as he hosted Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban at the White House.
“If they do anything, it would be a very bad mistake,” Trump warned. “If they do anything they will suffer greatly.”
Trump’s warning came as Saudi Arabia said two of its US-bound oil tankers were sabotaged and received “significant damage” Sunday off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
A UAE government official said the Saudi oil tankers Al-Marzoqah and Amjad were attacked off the emirate of Fujairah along with the Norwegian tanker Andrea Victory and an Emirati ship, the A. Michel.
The Andrea Victory’s managers, Thome Group, said the tanker had a hole in the hull area “after being struck by an unknown object on the waterline”.
The crew were unharmed and the ship was not in any danger of sinking.
Details of the incident were initially unclear. But it raised risks for shippers in a region vital to global energy supplies at a time of increasing tensions between the US and Iran over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.
A US official told Reuters Monday that Washington suspected Iranian involvement, but could not prove it.
““This is what Iran does … The sort of thing you could see Iran doing,” the official said.
Asked about the sabotage on Monday, Trump responded: “It’s going to be a bad problem for Iran if something happens.”
Washington has warned shipping companies that “Iran or its proxies” could be targeting maritime traffic in the Persian Gulf region and said it was deploying an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf to counter alleged threats from Tehran.
An Israel TV report on Friday said Israel has warned the US that Iran is contemplating targeting Saudi oil production facilities.
The unsourced Channel 13 report said the Iranians were “considering various aggressive acts” against American or American-allied targets. Tehran had looked at targeting American bases in the Gulf, but that had been deemed too drastic. The main target they were interested in was “Saudi oil production facilities,” the TV report said.
The Channel 13 report came four days after the same TV channel first reported that the Israeli Mossad had tipped off the White House two weeks ago about an Iranian plan to attack either a US or US-allied target. That earlier report did not specify potential targets for such an ostensible attack.
The spike in tensions comes a week after Iran announced it was suspending some of its commitments under the 2015 nuclear agreement, one year after Trump withdrew from the accord and slapped tough sanctions on the Islamic republic.
In the face of growing international concern, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday scrapped a trip to Moscow, heading instead to Brussels to discuss the Iran crisis with his European counterparts.
Trump last week declared himself open to talks with the Iranian leadership, a position reiterated on Monday by Brian Hook, the US special envoy for Iran.
“We believe that Iran should try talks instead of threats. They have chosen poorly by focusing on threats,” Hook told reporters.