Iran Attacks Saudi’s Oil Fields – What’s Next?

A still image taken from social media shows fires burning in the distance after a drone strike on Saudi company Aramco’s oil processing facilities, in Buqayq, Saudi Arabia on September 14, 2019.
A still image taken from social media shows fires burning in the distance after a drone strike on Saudi company Aramco’s oil processing facilities, in Buqayq, Saudi Arabia – Photo: Reuters)

Last Saturday Saudi Arabia suffered a set of missile/drone attacks at their main oil export processing center in Abqaiq, which took out more than half its oil production and sent crude prices soaring. While the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen claimed responsibility, Saudi Defense ministry spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said the evidence showed the attacks were launched from the north and were “unquestionably sponsored by Iran.”

The Saudis say Iranian-made Ya Ali land-attack missiles, which have a maximum range of 435 miles, were used in the attacks. That range would exclude Yemen, the launch location claimed by Houthi rebels. Col. Maliki said the type was different than those used in previous attacks by Iran-allied Houthi rebels. Most of those attacks were from ballistic missiles; Col. Maliki said about 230 ballistic missiles had been fired on the kingdom in recent years.

The strikes on Saturday were by far the most serious yet in a series aimed at the region’s energy supply. The United States has already accused Iran of orchestrating attacks on six tankers off its southern coast earlier this year, which Tehran denied. Iran also captured a British-flagged vessel in the Persian Gulf after UK forces detained an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar. As Gareth Porter author of Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, stated: “Whether the Abqiaq attack was a combined Houthi-Iranian operation or a completely Iranian one is of a secondary measure of importance. It is obvious that whatever the precise nature of the strike, Iran likely played a role in both creating the drones and/or cruise missiles involved and in the strategic rationale for it. But one can argue that both the Houthis and Iran had legitimate reasons for carrying out such a strike.”

For the Houthis, the strikes were to force the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to stop its systematic and genocidal war war on the civilian population it controls in Yemen and its denial of its ability to obtain basic goods by air and sea. Whereas for the Persians, it was a means to coerce the Trump administration to end its blockade of Iran’s economy through pressure on its customers. Whether for good or for bad, the Ayatollahs are letting the American government know that it cannot continue is forceful tactics after it pulled out of the JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal) without serious repercussions.

While the Iranian regime sponsors international terrorism, such as Hezbollah, we must be aware that Saudi Arabia has violated the most fundamental principles of international law in campaign to change the regime in Yemen, since it was not under attack by the Houthis when it initiated that war over four years ago. Efforts to end the conflict through resistance and strikes on lesser targets in Saudi Arabia had failed to halt the conflict that has no end in sight.

The US, as with the Abqaiq attacks, was apparently taken by surprise when when Iran shot down a high-altitude but slow-moving US prototype naval variant of the 737-size Global Hawk surveillance drone with a 3rd Khordad missile variant of the Ra’ad surface to air missile system first deployed a few years ago. Iran’s air defense system has been continually upgraded, beginning with the Russian S-300 system it received in 2016. Iran also just unveiled in 2019 its Bavar-373 air defense system, which it regards as closer to the Russian S-400 system coveted by India and Turkey than to the S-300 system. Let us also not forget Iran’s development of a fleet of military drones, which has prompted one analyst to call Iran a “drone superpower.” Its drone accomplishments reportedly include the Shahed-171 “stealth drone” with precision-guided missiles, and the Shahed-129, which it reverse engineered from the US Sentinel RQ-170 and the MQ-1 Predator.

Trump has, once more, steered clear of a war footing despite Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s tough-talk: “This is an attack of a scale we’ve just not seen before… It was an act of war against them directly.” Trump had previously called off a retaliatory strike this past June against Iran after Tehran shot down a highly sophisticated American drone flying over the Strait of Hormuz — Washington held that the drone was flying over international water, while Iran claims it entered its airspace. The president revealed that three strikes were planned against targets in Iran but before giving his military the go-ahead. After hearing that 150 would be killed, the president decided that such a price would be too high to pay and disproportional to the destruction of an unmanned drone.

For the record, I (and all of my Persian friends) would favor a change of government in Iran — the forty-year-old regime has been nothing other than an oppression to its people with its sharia draconian law, very much like the Wahhabi doctrine in Saudi Arabia. Yet, as indicated, war with Iran would be futile not just for the Middle East, but it would be a war that the US would not win since America would not have its European allies (Trump has alienated) nor would it have its main ally in the region, Israel, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent electoral defeat. Trump is rightly seeking to build a coalition with its European and Arab partners to tackle the Iranian crisis. However, a number of America’s one-time devoted allies are reminding Trump that they cannot be called upon solely when the US finds itself in a “tight squeeze” while making them feel ignored when they want his support to help their ends.

If Trump wants to find a solution, he must call to line Saudi Arabia for its human rights violations — this includes publicl beheadings and crucifixions, even of children — as he did with Iran. Professor Emeritus of International Relations and History at Boston University Andrew J. Bacevich says: “[The US] government has been underwriting Saudi and Emirati folly in Yemen for four and a half years. That horrible policy has helped to create the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and caused the preventable deaths of tens of thousands of children, to say nothing of the tens of millions more threatened with starvation and disease as a result of US-backed Saudi coalition policies. When the US “takes sides” in conflicts that have little or nothing to do with us, whole countries and tens of millions of innocent people pay the price for our government’s terrible decision. We know the cost of indulging Saudi Arabia in its regional ambitions, and we should refuse to lift another finger on their behalf.”