SWITZERLAND, SEPTEMBER 16 – The attack on the world’s largest oil processing plant early Saturday morning is a dramatic escalation in the confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia even if the Iranians didn’t fire the drones or missiles responsible.
Several projectiles struck the Abqaiq plant, starting a series of fires that quickly took out nearly half Saudi’s oil production — 5% of the global daily output — and sparking fears about the security of the world’s oil supplies.
Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed the attack, saying that 10 drones had targeted Abqaiq, as well as the Khurais oilfield. But attacks of this scale and accuracy would represent a sudden and remarkable increase in Houthi capabilities, and neither the United States nor Saudi Arabia is buying the claim.
The United States swiftly discounted the Houthi claim.
Secretary Michael Pompeo has already blamed Iran for the attack In a series of Tweets, Pompeo cited the country’s support for Houthi rebels in Yemen, who claimed responsibility for the attack, and said the United States would “ensure that energy markets remain well supplied and Iran is held accountable for its aggression.”
In response Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif accused Pompeo of engaging in deception. He wrote on Twitter: “Having failed at ‘max pressure’, @SecPompeo’s turning to ‘max deceit’ US & its clients are stuck in Yemen because of illusion that weapon superiority will lead to military victory. Blaming Iran won’t end disaster.”
President Donald Trump on Sunday evening tweeted that the US has “reason to believe that we know” who is responsible for an attack on a Saudi Arabian oil field and the country is “locked and loaded depending on verification” following the crippling strike.
“Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!” Trump said.
Trump’s tweet, which appeared to raise the specter of a US military response, served to ratchet up tensions in a region already on edge after Saturday’s audacious attack on the Saudi oil field.
Trump used similar language in June when he announced he had called off an attack on Iran just as the US was “cocked & loaded” to strike because he decided it would cause too many deaths for a proportionate response to Tehran’s downing of a US drone.
But where did this attack originate and who was behind it?The Houthis have sent dozens of drones and short-range ballistic missiles against Saudi Arabia in the past two years. Many have been intercepted by Saudi air defenses; others have fallen harmlessly. A very few have caused limited damage and casualties.