By Finian Cunningham
September 18, 2019
Following the devastating airstrikes on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry, US Vice President Mike Pence flexed his tough-talking muscles, vowing that his country is “ready to defend our interests and allies… make no mistake about it.”
Don’t you think the assurance is a bit late? Saudi Arabia – a historic and key ally of Washington – had its entire oil production knocked out by 50 per cent last weekend when it came under aerial attack. Global markets were rattled over possible critical fuel shortages as the world’s biggest exporter of crude oil might not recover full production for weeks.
So, Pence’s stern words of being “ready to defend” certainly ring a bit hollow, if not rather farcical. If Washington was indeed on sentry duty for the Middle East, as it has appointed itself to do decades ago, why weren’t the airstrikes on Saudi Arabia’s vital oil industry intercepted to prevent the havoc wreaked?
We are not talking here about some remote oil field or installation. The infrastructure targeted for massive damage was at the very heart of Saudi’s oil industry. The Abqaiq refinery and processing plant is where up to 70 per cent of all Saudi crude is prepared for export. It is said to be the biggest crude oil processing plant in the world. And it is near to other vital refining and shipping facilities in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province adjacent to the Persian Gulf.
The Yemeni Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for the air raids last weekend, which also targeted a major oil field at Khurais, located in Eastern Province, not far from the Abqaiq processing plant. The Houthis said the blitz was conducted with 10 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The distance covered from Yemen is nearly 1,000 kms. It is thought that the Yemeni rebels have developed drones capable of reaching up to 1,500 kms. What’s more, they have threatened that all key Saudi oil infrastructure is vulnerable to future attacks.
Potentially, a new wave of airstrikes from Yemen using more sophisticated drone models could bring the Saudi rulers to their knees from their oil economy being decimated.
What must be deeply troubling for the Saudis is that their lifeline oil economy seems to be defenceless – despite having spent hundreds of billions of dollars on US anti-missile systems. Months after Donald Trump took office in early 2017, recall how he boasted about the Saudis buying over $100 billion in Pentagon weaponry.
That’s why VP Mike Pence’s stirring words of “defending allies” sound ridiculous.
It also suggests that’s why US intelligence and military officials are hurriedly trying to blame Iran for carrying out the latest attacks. If the rag-tag Houthi rebels from war-torn Yemen can penetrate US-backed air defences to demolish Saudi oil infrastructure, then American anti-missile technology is more over-rated and much worse in practice than many had already suspected.
President Trump has been a little more circumspect about blaming Iran for the air assaults, but senior administration officials like Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper have come out forcefully claiming that Iran is responsible. Iran denies any involvement and says that the US is “in denial” about the fact that the Yemenis are capable and entitled to defend themselves in a more-than-four-year military operation launched on their country by the US-backed Saudi military coalition in March 2015.
US intelligence and military sources are briefing American media outlets that the airstrikes were carried out with drones and cruise missiles fired from southwest Iran. No evidence has been presented, as usual from these anonymous and faceless US spooks; the only “evidence” so far are satellite images of the damaged oil installations. Those images are far from conclusive. The attacks could have come from the southerly direction of Yemen.
But here’s the thing. If drones and cruises missiles were launched from Iran, as the US is claiming, then their flight path would have come within close range of the American Navy’s Fifth Fleet headquarters base in Bahrain which is near to Saudi’s Eastern Province and its oil infrastructure.
The US Fifth Fleet is responsible for “securing” the entire Middle East and in particular the strategically important Persian Gulf waterway where a third of all globally shipped oil is daily transported. It is the world’s premier chokepoint for oil trade.
Is it really plausible that a swarm of drones and cruise missiles allegedly transiting from Iran across the Gulf within a few hundred kilometres of the US Fifth Fleet – with all its warships, radar, satellite and detection technology bristling – were not detected in flight heading for Saudi Arabia?
If Iranian drones and missiles were detected then we can be sure US officials would be blaring the information, categorically pinpointing the incriminating evidence. As it is, American officials and their intelligence sources are so far peddling vague accusations against Iran based on dubious satellite images.
That suggests that Iran’s denials are credible and that the Houthis’ version of events is closer to the truth. They hit Saudi Arabia’s “crown jewels” and the Saudis’ supposed protector, the US, could do nothing about it.
LD: Most of the mainstream media are spinning this news so as to suggest (1) that Iran is almost certainly guilty of carrying out this devastating attack on Saudi oil facilities on the grounds that the Houthi rebels in Yemen just don’t have the expertise and resources to carry out this attack themselves; and (2) that President Trump is being remarkably cautious and restrained in his desire not to take hasty and reckless tit-for-tat action against Iran until convincing proof of Iranian complicity has been collected.
This article by the Associated Press (The Los Angeles Times) takes this line: U.S. Military to present several options to Trump on Iran. This article assumes Iranian guilt and talks glibly of Trump taking retaliatory action to punish Iran, ranging from mild to drastic depending on the evidence unearthed. The editor of Truthseeker, Rixon Stuart, has written this spirited defence of Iran as an introduction to the Associated Press article on his site:
The Associated Press report is disinformation dressed as journalism. First of all it claims that the attack on Saudi oil facilities was carried out by Iran. It asserts this without question, in the process completely ignoring Houthi claims of responsibility.
While we concede that Iran may have provided assistance — with target intelligence, electronic components etc — what’s amazing is Houthi claims of responsibility are NOT MENTIONED ONCE.
The Associated Press also completely ignores the fact that the Houthi have a history of launching drone strikes on Saudi Arabia and its allies. In fact the Houthis have shown themselves adept at using drones against the Saudi-led coalition. In January 2019, a Houthi drone strike killed six Yemeni soldiers – who were aligned with Saudi Arabia – at a military parade in Yemen’s Lahaja province.
In August 2019, Houthis drones struck an oilfield in eastern Saudi Arabia. A total of ten drones were used in that attack and although they started fires at a gas plant oil production was unaffected.
The Houthi rebels have also unveiled their own indigenously developed drones, which in the words of the authoritative Janes Defence, look “substantially different” from Iranian drones of similar capability.
None of this crucial background is mentioned in the following Associated Press report. The omission together with the failure to mention Houthi claims of responsibility acts to frame Iran as being responsible for the attack. Thereby providing justification for a U.S. led strike on Iran.
Whether that happens or not remains to be seen. We know that elements in the U.S. military are not enthusiastic about striking Iran. However, the final decision rests with Trump and he may not share their sense of caution and restraint. Ed.