Any attack by the United States or Saudi Arabia on Iran will result in an “all-out war”, Tehran warned on Thursday.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made the comments as tensions in the Gulf continue rise after attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure halted the production of about five percent of the world’s oil supply.
Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for Saturday’s strikes on Saudi’s oil facilities, but the United States alleged the attack involved cruise missiles from Iran and amounts to “an act of war”.
The US has said its military is “locked and loaded” to respond against the perpetrators.
“We don’t want war, we don’t want to engage in a military confrontation,” Zarif told CNN on Thursday, noting it would lead to “a lot of casualties”.
“But we won’t blink to defend our territory,” he added.
Asked about the consequence of “an American or Saudi military strike on Iran”, Zarif responded: “An all-out war.”
Saudi Arabia, which has been bogged down in a bloody five-year conflict in neighbouring Yemen, said on Wednesday that Iran “unquestionably sponsored” the attacks and the weapons used were Iranian-made – but did not directly blame its regional rival.
“They’re making that up,” Zarif responded. “Now they want to pin the blame on Iran, in order to achieve something. And that is why I’m saying this is agitation for war because it’s based on lies, it’s based on deception.”
Iran has repeatedly denied US and Saudi accusations of its involvement in Saturday’s strikes, saying the Houthis hit the oil facilities in response to the Saudi-Emirati-led military coalition’s ongoing attacks in Yemen.
The strikes on Saudi energy giant Aramco’s Abqaiq processing plant and Khurais oilfield halved the kingdom’s oil output.
A senior advisor to Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called on Gulf countries to “come to their senses”, Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported.
“They [US and Saudi Arabia] have realised that playing with the tail of a lion is highly dangerous and that if they take action against Iran at any time, they know there will be no tomorrow for them in the region,” Fars quoted Hossein Dehghan as saying.
‘Act of war’
After meeting with allies in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said there was an “enormous consensus in the region” that Iran carried out Saturday’s attacks, despite its denials.
“I didn’t hear anyone in the region who doubted that for a single moment,” he told reporters.
Despite earlier condemning the strikes as an “act of war”, Pompeo said he was in the Gulf looking to achieve peace.
“We’d like a peaceful resolution. I think we’ve demonstrated that,” he said. “We’re here to build out a coalition aimed at achieving peace. I hope the Islamic Republic of Iran sees it the same way.”
The oil strikes have reignited fears over a wider conflagration in the region, as tensions remain high over the collapsing nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
Tehran has warned the United States it would retaliate “immediately” if targeted.
In a tweet, Zarif accused US allies and some American officials of trying to “deceive” President Donald Trump into entering a war with Iran.
“For their own sake they should pray that they won’t get what they seek,” he said.
The US military said on Thursday it was consulting with Saudi Arabia on ways to mitigate threats.
A Pentagon spokesman, speaking at a news briefing, declined to say whether the US military believed the drone and missile attack was launched from Iranian territory, deferring to Saudi Arabia’s ongoing assessment.
“We’re not going to get ahead of them on that,” spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said.
Trump on Wednesday struck a cautious note, saying there were many options short of war with Iran. He ordered more sanctions on Tehran, which Iran has called “economic terrorism”.
The United Arab Emirates on Thursday followed its ally Saudi Arabia in announcing it was joining a global maritime security coalition that Washington has been trying to build since a series of explosions on oil tankers in Gulf waters in recent months, which were also blamed on Iran.
Pompeo, who arrived in the UAE from Saudi Arabia on Thursday, welcomed the move on Twitter. “Recent events underscore the importance of protecting global commerce and freedom of navigation.”
Britain and Bahrain previously said they were participating, but most European countries have been reluctant to sign up for fear of stoking regional tensions.
Iraq said it would not join the mission, and also rejected any Israeli role in it.
Kuwait, which said earlier this week it was investigating the detection of a drone over its territory, has put its oil sector on high alert and raised security to the highest level as a precautionary measure.
Tehran says the US accusations were part of Washington’s “maximum pressure” policy on Iran to force it to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal, which Trump exited last year, reimposing sanctions to choke off Iran’s vital oil exports.
Iran has gradually scaled back its nuclear commitments, and rejected any talks unless all sanctions are lifted.
“The United States is now using oil as a weapon. Oil is not a weapon,” Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zangeneh said on Thursday.
France, which is trying to salvage the nuclear deal, said the upcoming UN meeting New York presented a chance to de-escalate tensions.
“When missiles hit another country it is an act of war, but we have to go back to the principle of de-escalation,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said. “There is an international investigation, let’s wait for its results.”