‘Locked & loaded’ fingers point at Iran

Washington: President Donald trump has said the US is "locked and loaded" to respond to an attack on Saudi oil infrastructure which it has blamed on Iran.

It is the first time the president has hinted at a potential American military response to the attack, which has halved Saudi oil production and led both the countries to announce that they may have to tap their strategic oil reserves.

But even as Trump upped the ante there was confusion about his true intentions. It was unclear whether his "locked and loaded" phraseology was addressed at Iran or its proxies in Iraq or Yemen. Also, it was unclear whether Trump was only intending to rattle Iran.

Nonetheless, the incoherent American policy and game of brinkmanship threatens to inadvertently drag the US into a conflict that could quickly escalate with unpredictable, damaging consequences in the Middle East and beyond.

The government also released satellite photographs showing at least 17 points of impact at Saudi oil installations. The strikes seem to have come from the direction of Iran or Iraq, rather than from Yemen, where the Iranian-backed Houthi militia are holed up.

Trump, however, did not name Iran, saying he needed to consult Saudi Arabia first. Saudi-led coalition spokes-man Lieutenant Colonel Turki al-Malki said in a news conference on Monday that Iranian weapons were used in the attacks.

However, the spokesperson did not provide details on the weapons used. Significantly, he also said the attack was not launched from Yemen.

(Yemen's Houthi rebels on Saturday had claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they conducted the strikes — using 10 drones — in retaliation for Saudi Arabia's military campaign against the group in Yemen.)

An Iranian strategist said the message to the West and its regional allies was clear. If the United States strikes Iran, “the flames of war in the Persian Gulf will burn you all,” he said.

A senior commander for the Revolutionary Guards insisted that the country was ready for “full-fledged” war. “Everybody should know that all American bases and their aircraft carriers in a distance of up to 2,000 km around Iran are within the range of our missiles,” said Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Revolutionary Guards’ air force.

Saudi de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the kingdom is "willing and able" to respond to this "terrorist aggression." But a tit-for-tat strike on Iranian oil fields is "highly unlikely," Middle East expert James Dorsey told AFP.

"The Saudis do not want an open conflict with Iran. The Saudis would like others to fight that war, and the others are reluctant," said Dorsey, from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.