Monday, September 16, 2019
The Saudi oil attacks - read the map
I note that Yemeni rebels have claimed responsibility for attacking Saudi Arabian oil refining facilities using (presumably) Iranian-manufactured and -supplied drones over the weekend. I'm not so sure. Consider this map of the region, with the area of the drone attacks highlighted by a red marker.
That's an awful long way from Yemen, where the Houthi rebels are fighting. What's more, the Yemeni border area is well covered by radar, with missiles and fighter aircraft on permanent standby to intercept ballistic missiles and other attacks launched from rebel territory. To suggest that the drones flew all that way north, penetrating all those air defenses, without being detected, is (to me) suspicious on the face of it.
On the other hand, look at Iran, the main supporter (and supplier of armaments to) the Houthi rebels. It's much closer to the target area, and could conceivably get operators even closer through using innocent-looking ships to approach the Saudi coast without incurring suspicion. What's more, according to the BBC, "the US government believed that 15 buildings at Abqaiq had been damaged on the west-northwest sides [i.e. the sides facing towards Iran], not the southern sides facing Yemen". On the face of it, without any evidence to prove that the drones did, in fact, come from Yemen, I'd suspect that Iran launched and controlled the drones (or cruise missiles) directly.
The question is, what can be done about it? I don't think the United States should get directly involved; after all, our territory and/or personnel weren't attacked, so we have no axe to grind here, apart from our ally being the victim. I think we should leave it up to the countries in that region to coordinate a response among themselves. (Israel also plays into this; it has its own problems with Iran, and might be more than willing to join a coalition effort against that country.) What's more, using a similar tactic against Iran (drone attacks on its infrastructure) might be just as effective, and provide plausible deniability as well. ("Oh, some of your Houthi friends' drones must have gone off-course, and hit you instead of us. Terribly sorry about that, and all that sort of thing.")
The situation is complicated by the fact that Iran has, effectively, two governments and two militaries. The "regular" government is one thing: the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (recently designated as a terrorist organization by the USA) is entirely another. The latter is much more radicalized, and usually operates at the direction of fanatical religious leaders rather than the national political authority. If Iran did, in fact, launch these attacks, I'd say they were much more likely to come from the Revolutionary Guard than from the country's "traditional" armed forces.
I think we're very fortunate that the USA is, as near as makes no difference, self-supporting in oil production. Most of the rest of the world isn't so fortunate, and is at greater economic risk if oil supplies are disrupted. That's now more than a theoretical possibility.