a major Iranian nuclear site in July and the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist last November. Israel has not publicly acknowledged either operation.

The Israeli offensive against Iranian shipping has two goals, analysts and officials said. The first is to prevent Tehran from sending equipment to Lebanon to help Hezbollah build a precision missile program, which Israel considers a strategic threat.

The second is to dry up an important source of oil revenue for Tehran, building on the pressure American sanctions have inflicted. After the United States imposed sanctions on Iran’s fuel industry in late 2018, the Iranian government became more reliant on clandestine shipping.

Sima Shine, a former head of research at Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency.

The attacks typically feature limpet mines and sometimes torpedoes, the American official said. They generally target the ships’ engines or propellers, one Israeli official said. And they are intended to cripple but not sink the ships, the American and Israeli officials said.

a recent oil spill that left tons of tar on the beaches of Israel and Lebanon.

Within Israel, there is concern among maritime experts that the cost of a sea war may exceed its benefit.

While the Israeli Navy can make its presence felt in the Mediterranean and Red Seas, it is less effective in waters closer to Iran. And that could make Israeli-owned ships more vulnerable to Iranian attacks as they pass Iran’s western shores on their way to ports in the Gulf, said Shaul Chorev, a retired Israeli admiral who now heads the Maritime Policy and Strategy Research Center at the University of Haifa.

“Israeli strategic interests in the Persian Gulf and related waterways will undoubtedly grow,” he wrote in a statement, “and the Israeli Navy does not have the capabilities to protect these interests.”

Patrick Kingsley reported from Jerusalem, Ronen Bergman from Tel Aviv, Farnaz Fassihi from New York, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

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Saudi Arabia Offers Cease-Fire in Yemen and Lifting of Blockade

Saudi Arabia proposed what it described as a new peace offering on Monday to end the kingdom’s nearly six-year-old war on the insurgency in neighboring Yemen, pledging to lift an air-and-sea blockade if the Houthi rebels agree to a cease-fire.

The offering, announced by Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, came as pressure has escalated on the country to help break a stalemate in the Yemen conflict, which the United Nations has called the world’s worst man-made humanitarian disaster.

Millions of Yemenis, including children, are verging on famine partly because of the blockade, which has choked the delivery of food and fuel to the country, the Arab world’s poorest.

The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, was quoted by Arab news media as saying that if the Houthis agreed to a cease-fire, the country would allow the reopening of the airport in Sana, the Yemeni capital, and would permit fuel and food imports through Hudaydah, a major Yemeni seaport. Both are controlled by the Houthis.

announced an end to American logistical and intelligence support for the Saudi war effort in Yemen.

United Nations humanitarian officials have been pleading for eased access to vulnerable Yemenis isolated by the war, warning that famine already is beginning to take hold. After a visit to Yemen in early March, David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Program, the U.N.’s anti-hunger agency, said “the famine is on a worsening trajectory.”

Six years of war, Mr. Beasley said, had “completely devastated the people, in every respect.”

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Saudi Arabia Offers Cease-Fire Deal in Yemen

RIYADH—Saudi Arabia unveiled a proposal for a cease-fire aimed at disentangling itself from Yemen’s civil war, as rebel forces press an offensive and the Biden administration seeks to extricate the U.S. from the six-year-old conflict.

The proposal announced Monday includes a nationwide cease-fire, reopening of both the airport in the capital San’a and the country’s largest port at Hodeidah, as well as the start of political consultations under United Nations supervision, which have so far failed to resolve the conflict between the Saudi-backed forces and the Houthi rebels.

“We want the guns to fall completely silent. That is the initiative and that is the only thing that can really help us get to the next step,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told reporters Monday. “We hope that we can have a cease-fire immediately, but the onus is on the Houthis.”

The Houthis, who are aligned with Saudi archenemy Iran, dismissed the proposal as containing nothing new.

“Any positions or initiatives that don’t recognize that Yemen has been subjected to hostility and blockade for six years, and don’t separate the humanitarian aspect from any political or military bargain or lift the blockade are nothing new or serious,” said the group’s spokesman, Mohammed Abdel Salam.

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As Biden Seeks to End U.S. Involvement in Yemen, Iran-Backed Fighters Launch More Attacks

MARIB, Yemen—A detachment of Saudi-backed Yemeni soldiers—armed with AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and a single tank—keep watch from a rock outcropping, scanning the vast expanse of desert below them for signs of activity by Iranian-backed Houthi fighters.

“They’re out there,” said Yemeni Maj. Gen. Ameen Alwaili. “They’re pushing in from three sides.”

This small outpost is on the front lines of a continuing battle between the Houthi rebels and Yemen’s U.N.-recognized government, which is trying to hold on to Marib, its last stronghold in the north of the country and site of a coveted oil refinery.

In recent weeks, Houthi forces, using armed drones, ballistic missiles and mortars, have moved within a few miles of the city.

If Marib falls, Yemeni government and Saudi officials warned, it would give the Houthis and their Iranian allies control of a strategically valuable area that could serve as a launchpad for continued strikes on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry infrastructure and other targets.

A fighter with forces loyal to Yemen’s Saudi-backed government mans a heavy machine gun northwest of Marib in central Yemen on Feb. 11.

Photo: Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Saudi and Yemeni officials said recent moves by President Biden to disentangle the U.S. from the grinding six-year civil war appear to have emboldened Houthi fighters. Last month, the Houthis launched more drone and missile strikes than in any other month during the conflict, U.S. officials say.

“The Houthis misunderstood Biden’s moves and saw them as a green light,” said a senior Saudi official.

Mr. Biden has scaled back U.S. support for the Saudi war effort and dispatched a special envoy to try to broker a cease-fire and eventual peace deal between the two sides. Ending Houthi strikes on Saudi Arabia is a central goal of Washington’s diplomatic push, U.S. officials said.

“If we cannot make progress now, the country will spiral into greater conflict and instability,” Tim Lenderking, the special U.S. envoy, said last week after presenting the Houthis with a new proposal to end the fighting. “Let us seize this moment.”

The war in Yemen has become a political albatross for Riyadh and Washington, with both trying to find an exit strategy from a conflict that has spawned what the U.N. calls the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe. Aid groups say diplomatic deadlock is deepening the crisis by holding up delivery of food and fuel needed to avert widespread famine in Yemen.

The Saudi-led coalition mounted a series of airstrikes on Yemen’s rebel-held capital Sanaa on March 7.

Photo: Hani Al-Ansi/Zuma Press

A recently-released Houthi prisoner visits a cemetery in Sana’a, Yemen, March 3.

Photo: yahya arhab/Shutterstock

Soon after taking office, Mr. Biden put a hold on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which has been Riyadh’s most important ally on the ground in Yemen. He also reversed a last-minute Trump administration move to officially declare the Houthis terrorists and impose economic sanctions on key leaders of the group.

Aid groups have applauded that move, saying a terror designation would have made it impossible for them to work in Houthi-controlled areas.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent the Saudi military into Yemen in 2015 to support a weak Yemen government struggling to stop the Houthis. The intervention quickly became a military quagmire, Iran stepped up support for the Houthis and the rebels captured the splintered country’s capital.

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Errant airstrikes that killed thousands of women and children over the years have eroded Western backing for the Saudi effort. Under pressure, then-President Trump reduced U.S. support for Saudis in 2018 by curtailing aerial refueling for planes carrying out the airstrikes.

But he also agreed to some key requests from the Gulf nations. Shortly before leaving office, Mr. Trump signed off on multibillion-dollar arms deals for the UAE and Saudi Arabia, including more precision-guided missiles used in Yemen.

The new approach to Yemen is part of a broader Biden administration shift in U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia. Riyadh’s support in Washington has plunged in recent years. The war in Yemen and the 2018 killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul fueled bipartisan discontent. Securing a peace deal in Yemen is one way U.S. officials say Riyadh can begin to repair its relationships in Washington.

The Pentagon is now focusing on providing assistance that’s defensive in nature, such as helping the Saudi military shoot down Houthi missiles and drones targeting the country.

The U.S. has also scaled back intelligence support for the Saudis. “It is more limited than it’s ever been,” one U.S. military official said.

More on Yemen’s Civil War

U.S. officials said surveillance flights over Yemen are more focused on the parallel threat posed by the country’s branch of al Qaeda, which is considered the most dangerous branch of the extremist group behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The U.S. has carried out scores of drone strikes over the past decade on al Qaeda forces in Yemen, where thousands of its members are believed to still operate. The U.S. will keep warning the Saudis of imminent Houthi rocket and drone strikes if they get intelligence on them, the official said.

While the U.S. is working to get out of Yemen, Iran is trying to deepen its reach, Saudi, Yemeni and U.S. officials say. The U.S. has repeatedly seized Iranian-made weapons off the coast of Yemen that American military officials said were sent by Tehran to aid Houthi forces.

Iran denies the American accusations.

U.S., Saudi and Yemeni officials also say Hasan Irlu, an Iranian military commander serving as Iran’s diplomat in Houthi-controlled Yemen, has brought a new level of battlefield sophistication to the Houthis.

Last December, the Trump administration accused Mr. Irlu of training Houthi fighters to use advanced weapons. The U.S. imposed economic sanctions on Mr. Irlu.

So far, the Houthis have rebuffed U.S. diplomatic pressure to agree to a cease-fire with Saudi Arabia, after which the Saudis would end their blockades of the Red Sea port of Hodeida, the main gateway for humanitarian aid, and the Sana’a airport.

Houthi leaders have said they would only agree to a national cease-fire if the Saudis end the blockades first.

One Houthi official briefed on the continuing talks accused the U.S. of siding with Saudi Arabia by condemning Houthi missile and drone strikes on the Saudis.

“The U.S. doesn’t seem serious about ending the war in Yemen,” the official said. “When they show seriousness, we can meet and talk directly with them.”

Saudi officials want Mr. Biden to release his hold on the sale of precision-guided missiles, which they say are used only to defend their allies from Houthi attacks. U.S. officials expressed little openness to approving the sales, but suggested they might revisit the issue if Saudi Arabia disengages from Yemen.

A soldier stands at the Yemen military position on the front lines of the fight against Houthi forces outside Marib, Yemen, on March 9.

Photo: Dion Nissenbaum/The Wall Street Journal

From a command center bored into a gravel-covered hillside near Marib, Lt. Gen. Mohammed al-Maqdishi, defense minister for the U.N.-backed government in Yemen, accused the Houthis of “using waves of soldiers like sheep.”

He said he hoped the U.S. would rethink its approach. “People trust the U.S. to stand with Saudi Arabia against Iran and its proxies,” he said. “We are putting our hope in that.”

Write to Dion Nissenbaum at dion.nissenbaum@wsj.com

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

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Oil slips for third session before U.S. inventories EIA data

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Oil fell for a third straight session on Wednesday as investors took profits while looking ahead to U.S. inventories data due later in the day for pointers on where prices will head next.

FILE PHOTO: A Marathon Oil well site is seen as oil and gas activity dips in the Eagle Ford Shale oilfield in Texas, U.S., because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the drop in demand for oil globally. May 18, 2020. REUTERS/Jennifer Hiller

Brent crude for May dropped 56 cents, or 0.8%, to $66.96 a barrel by 0414 GMT, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude for April was at $63.56 a barrel, down 45 cents, or 0.7%.

Prices gained support last week from the OPEC+ decision to largely maintain production cuts in April. They then initially jumped on Monday, with Brent rising above $70 a barrel, after attacks by Yemeni Houthis on Saudi’s oil heartland, before settling back as the alarm subsided.

“It’s a realisation that there was no impact on supply from the attack,” Virendra Chauhan, a Singapore-based analyst at consultancy Energy Aspects said.

A combination of factors including top importers China and India drawing crude from storage at current high prices and expectations of a return in Iranian supplies have also cooled prices, he added.

In the United States, crude inventories rose by 12.8 million barrels in the week to March 5, according to trading sources, citing data from industry group the American Petroleum Institute. Analysts had expected a build of about 800,000 barrels in a Reuters’ poll.

Official figures from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) are expected Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. ET.

Meanwhile, higher prices are expected to bring more U.S. crude supplies back online.

U.S. crude production is still expected to fall by 160,000 barrels per day (bpd) in 2021 to 11.15 million bpd, the EIA said on Tuesday, but that’s a smaller decline than its previous monthly forecast for a 290,000-bpd drop.

The OPEC+ grouping – the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allied producers – may become the victim of its own success, analysts at EFG bank said, as higher prices resulting from supply restraint could incentivise U.S. oil production.

“The current WTI oil price is well above the level needed to incentivise a substantial increase in U.S. production, which according to surveys by the Dallas Fed and the Kansas City Fed stands at around $56 per barrel,” EFG said.

“The longer it remains above this threshold, the greater the incentive for U.S. and other non-OPEC+ producers to increase production.”

Reporting by Florence Tan; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell & Simon Cameron-Moore

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Oil prices edge up ahead of U.S. inventories data

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Oil ticked higher on Wednesday, after falling for two straight sessions, with investors looking ahead to U.S. inventories data due later in the day for pointers on where prices will head next.

FILE PHOTO: The sun sets behind the chimneys of the Total Grandpuits oil refinery, southeast of Paris, France, March 1, 2021. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Brent crude for May rose 15 cents, or 0.2%, to $67.67 a barrel by 0144 GMT, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude for April was at $64.24 a barrel, up 23 cents, or 0.4%.

Prices gained support last week from the OPEC+ decision to largely maintain production cuts in April. They then initially jumped on Monday, with Brent rising above $70 a barrel, after attacks by Yemeni Houthis on Saudi’s oil heartland.

Investors took advantage of that rally to lock in profits, ANZ analysts said in a note, adding that market sentiment was slightly bearish on expectations that U.S. crude inventories could rise for a third straight week.

Crude inventories rose by 12.8 million barrels in the week to March 5, according to trading sources, citing data from industry group the American Petroleum Institute. Analysts had expected a build of about 800,000 barrels in a Reuters’ poll.

Official figures from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) are expected Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. ET.

Meanwhile, higher prices are expected to bring more U.S. crude supplies back online.

U.S. crude production is still expected to fall by 160,000 barrels per day (bpd) in 2021 to 11.15 million bpd, the EIA said on Tuesday, but that’s a smaller decline than its previous monthly forecast for a 290,000-bpd drop.

The OPEC+ grouping – the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allied producers – may become the victim of its own success, analysts at EFG bank said, as higher prices resulting from supply restraint could incentivise U.S. oil production.

“The current WTI oil price is well above the level needed to incentivise a substantial increase in U.S. production, which according to surveys by the Dallas Fed and the Kansas City Fed stands at around $56 per barrel,” EFG said.

“The longer it remains above this threshold, the greater the incentive for U.S. and other non-OPEC+ producers to increase production.”

Reporting by Florence Tan; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell

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Iran-Backed Houthi Rebels Say They Targeted Saudi Oil Port

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia—Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebels said they attacked a major Saudi Arabian oil port on the Persian Gulf with drones and missiles on Sunday. Saudi authorities said the strike caused no casualties or damage.

The Saudi Energy Ministry said an assault “coming from the sea” had targeted petroleum tanks at the Ras Tanura port. It condemned what it called “repeated acts of sabotage and hostility” targeting energy supplies to the world.

“All indications point to Iran,” said an adviser to the Saudi royal court who said he was briefed on the matter. He said it wasn’t clear whether the origin was Iran or Iraq but that it hadn’t come from the direction of Yemen.

Iranian officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. An Iraqi official said he was unaware of any connection between his country and the attack.

Oil prices rose after the market opened Sunday evening in New York following the attack. Brent crude, the global gauge of oil prices, added more than 2.5% and rose above $71 a barrel. Prices have surged to their highest level since May 2019, lifted by rising demand as the global economy reopens from shutdowns designed to stop the coronavirus and supply curtailments around the world.

While Iran says it isn’t trying to build nuclear weapons, a look at its key facilities suggests it could develop the technology to make them. WSJ breaks down Tehran’s capabilities as it hits new milestones in uranium enrichment and limits access to inspectors. Photo illustration: George Downs

In 2019, a drone and missile attack on the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry temporarily shut down half the kingdom’s crude production. At the time, the Houthis claimed responsibility, but the U.S. said the attack was launched from Iraq or Iran, which denied the accusations.

Yahya Saree, spokesman for Houthi forces fighting the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen, said the group on Sunday used 10 drones and a ballistic missile in an attack on Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, as well as four drones and six missiles aimed at the southern Saudi regions of Asir and Jazan.

The Houthis have stepped up aerial attacks on Saudi Arabia following the inauguration in January of President Biden, who has pledged to end the six-year-old civil war in Yemen and recalibrate Washington’s relationship with Riyadh.

The Biden administration has said it wants to re-enter the 2015 nuclear deal and then negotiate a deeper, broader agreement with Tehran that also addresses Iran’s military posture and activities in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia is leading a military coalition that intervened in the conflict in Yemen, which now faces one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. The coalition launched a new round of airstrikes on the capital Sanaa earlier Sunday, warning that targeting civilians in Saudi Arabia was “a red line.”

Hussein Nasser, a father of two living in Sanaa, said the coalition bombardment of a nearby military base shattered the windows in dozens of homes in his neighborhood, injuring several people. “Five airstrikes at the same time while people and their kids were having lunch,” he said.

Following the incident at Ras Tanura, the port was operating as normal, according to several shipping sources. “Loadings are continuing normally,” said a manager at a shipping agency there who declined to be named. He wasn’t aware of any distribution center being hit.

Ras Tanura is the site of Saudi Aramco’s oldest and largest oil refinery and the world’s biggest offshore oil loading facility. The 550,000 barrel-a-day refinery supplies over a quarter of the kingdom’s fuel supply.

Shrapnel from a ballistic missile, which the Houthis said they had fired at military targets in nearby Dammam, fell near Aramco’s residential area in neighboring Dhahran, the Saudi statement said.

An Aramco employee living in the area said he saw two projectiles intercepted overhead by Saudi air defenses, which rely heavily on U.S. Patriot antimissile systems. Nearby residents reported the windows of their homes had trembled or even shattered from the blasts.

Images shared on social media showed bright blasts of light in the sky above Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province and later a plume of white smoke.

Write to Summer Said at summer.said@wsj.com and Stephen Kalin at stephen.kalin@wsj.com

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

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Scores Are Dead or Injured in Fire at Migrant Center in Yemen

CAIRO — A fire broke out Sunday in a detention center for migrants in Yemen’s capital, Sana, killing at least eight people and injuring more than 170 others, scores seriously, the United Nations migration agency said.

The cause of the fire was not immediately clear, according to the International Organization for Migration. More than 90 migrants were in serious condition, and the death toll could climb much higher, according to the Houthi rebels who run the center.

The Houthi, who have controlled the capital since Yemen’s conflict broke out more than six years ago, said that civil defense teams had extinguished the fire and that investigations were underway to determine its cause.

A U.N. official said the fire erupted in a hangar near the main building of the center, which was housing more than 700 migrants. Most had been arrested in the northern province of Sada while trying to cross into Saudi Arabia, she said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to brief the news media.

“This is just one of the many dangers that migrants have faced during the past six years of the crisis in Yemen,” said Carmela Godeau, the regional director of the International Organization for Migration.

The narrow waters between the Horn of Africa and Yemen have been a popular migration route despite Yemen’s continuing fighting. Tens of thousands of migrants, desperate to find jobs as housekeepers, servants and construction workers, try to make their way across Yemen every year to the oil-rich Persian Gulf states.

Some 138,000 migrants embarked on the arduous journey from the Horn of Africa to Yemen in 2019, but last year that number decreased drastically, to 37,000, because of the coronavirus pandemic. More than 2,500 migrants reached Yemen from Djibouti in January, according to the migration organization.

Those migrants are vulnerable to abuse by armed trafficking rings, many of them believed to be connected to the armed groups involved in the war. This month at least 20 migrants died after smugglers threw 80 overboard during a voyage from Djibouti in East Africa to Yemen, according to the migration agency.

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