There is a plethora of reports and analyses on the latest Houthi air strike on Saudi oil processing facilities at Saudi Aramco that caused a major spike in oil prices around the world. The following is a series of articles and links to help the interested reader understand what is happening and what can be expected in the future. Introductory notes and notes [in brackets] are by Vince Dhimos.
Once again, we are reminded of the 1974 pact, which I have dubbed the Petrodollar Agreement, concluded between Richard Nixon and King Faisal, which enjoins the US to use its armed forces to defend the Saudi dictators – at variance with the Constitution – and obliges the Saudis to use no other currency but the US dollar in trade settlements and as reserves. I had written extensively about this risky agreement that, by all appearances, has led the US to wage useless and extravagantly expensive wars in the Middle East (although the special special relationship with Israel has reinforced the destructive effect).
Probably the best equipped to analyse the situation in depth is David Hearst, editor-in-chief of Middle East Eye. His is also the scariest column of our series because it indicates that the US has lost considerable power in the Middle East and is flopping about like a landed fish. Trump makes plenty of noise, just as he did in Syria when he said he was ready to hit Assad’s facilities again but then declined to do so after hearing from the Russians, or after promising to unleash hell on Venezuela but then declined to do so when the Russians landed their bombers there, or when he made a suspiciously phony-sounding claim that he had ordered a strike on Iran but then called back the bombers. Putin, who knows Trump’s MO well, likes to quote, in such instances, the proverb: the dog barks and the caravan moves on.
Trump and the Saudis sowed chaos. Iran is giving it back
17 September 2019
A cursory look at the balance of power in the region will show how unequal a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran will be
Shock and awe.
The words the Pentagon used when it enjoyed a monopoly on the use of force and was about to rain it down on Saddam Hussein, are coming back to haunt it, two presidents on.
US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are shocked and awed by Iran. Tehran - and not Washington - is adept at mounting displays of rapid dominance to disorientate its enemy. No greater display of shock and awe could have been mounted than the one that hit two of Saudi Arabia’s biggest oil terminals on Saturday.
Drones or missiles?
The Saudis were defenceless and the target was hit with pinpoint accuracy. Try, as the US might, to avert the attention to Iran, there is little doubt that at least some of the drones and possibly missiles used in the attack flew over Kuwait, which means that they were flying south from Iraq.
The attack was witnessed and recorded by a bird hunter on the triangular border of Kuwait, Iraq and Saudi Arabia
The attack was witnessed and recorded by a bird hunter on the triangular border of Kuwait, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. In three different clips sounds of low flying drones or missiles are heard -- all of whom are travelling south.
In the video which has gone viral on social media, the bird hunter refers to four to five smaller planes which were followed by what he thought were missiles. He said he was near Salmi where the three borders meet at the time of the attack on Saturday morning.
Even better, from Iran’s point of view, was the row that followed the attacks, between a justifiably irate Iraqi prime minister and Pompeo.
Initially, the Americans released satellite pictures of the oil tanks being hit from the northwest – evidence that the drones and missiles came from Iraq, not eastwards from Iran. However they were soon forced to backtrack and claim the attacks came directly from Iran.
[Iraqi Prime Minister] Adel Abdul Mahdi’s statement, which he compelled the Americans to endorse, was a masterful mixture of denial and confirmatory threat. He denied the attack had been launched from Iraqi soil - in contradiction to the intelligence briefing he had just received - and threatened anyone against using proxies on Iraq’s soil.
This was aimed at Pompeo, as much as it was anyone else.
Another Gulf war
Months before, the US had floated the idea with Abdul Mahdi that the US wanted to bomb Iraqi Hezbollah, another Iranian proxy militia, from where a drone strike against Saudi Arabia had originated.
Abdul Mahdi persuaded Pompeo to stand that attack down. The US instead allowed Israeli drones to strike Iranian-backed Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs) or al-Hashd al-Shaabi targets from Kurdish bases in Syria. [Hashd al-Shaabi is a big headache for the Iraqi government and the US because, though it had been deemed a paramilitary force, backed by Iran, it also is now recognized as part of the official Iraqi armed forces. This is why it was futile for Israel to attack it in mid-July and why the West is careful not to condemn it as an Iranian terrorist group. Politically, the US presence is hanging on by a thread in Iraq and must be extremely careful to keep up the pretence that it is there to fight terrorists (though US pols have already said US troops must be there to offset Iranian influence But the Iranian forces and Iraqi forces are like a set of Siamese twins and no longer separable. A powerful parliamentary bloc in Iraq condemned the attack and blamed both Israel and the US, calling it an “act of war.” Trump’s wiggle room just keeps shrinking. Russia, grasping this weakness, has just told Israel it will no longer tolerate further Israeli attacks in Syria and has given Assad the green light to use its S-300 system to shoot down invading Israeli aircraft] Was the US, let alone a president fighting re-election, prepared for another Gulf War? Had not his country seen enough war this century?
After these attacks, Abdul Mahdi faced intense domestic pressure from his political allies to publically name Israel as the aggressor. He refused for the very reason that he today denies where the retaliatory drones came from.
Had he named America’s principle ally in the region, he would have declared that a state of war existed between thousands of US troops on his soil and al-Hashd, Iraq’s best troops, which he is trying painfully to re-integrate into his national forces.
Did America really want that to happen? Was the US, let alone a president fighting re-election, prepared for another Gulf War? Had not his country seen enough war this century?
Abdul Madhi’s arguments hit home.
Scrambling around for ways of delivering a “proportionate” response, Trump and Pompeo did not have an answer then and do not have one now.
'Locked and loaded'
To date, Iran and its network of militias in Yemen and Iraq have shot down a US drone, blown holes through tankers off the Emirati ports [this attack was not proven to be done by Iran], seized a British tanker, attacked airports, pipelines and oil terminals, and now have delivered the biggest strike against Saudi oilfields in the long and war-torn history of the Gulf.
Neither during the Iran-Iraq War, nor Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait and the first Gulf War, nor in the Second Iraq War, has Saudi Arabia ever had to halve its oil production, as it has done this week.
By so doing, Iran is sending Trump a clear message: "You want chaos? You want to tear up international treaties negotiated by your predecessor and slap sanctions on us? Well, we can give you chaos, and you will soon find out how vulnerable your allies are.”
Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, has used every international forum for months to signal Iran’s intentions to fight back. He said this in August in Stockholm: "President Trump cannot be unpredictable and expect others to be predictable. Unpredictability will lead to mutual unpredictability and unpredictability is chaos.”
Zarif was not listened to then. Maybe he will be now.
A cursory look at the balance of power in the region will show Trump how unequal a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran will be.
The strategic depth
It has taken Iran decades to create what it calls a “strategic depth" of battle-hardened militias by whom it has always stood, funded, armed and trained. And it is not about to abandon them now, however much they are hit by Israel.
Saudi Arabia has also funded and backed militias in the region, particularly in Syria, but is notorious for dumping its allies and talking instead to their enemies. This happened in Syria and Yemen.
Iran, which has survived decades of sanctions and war, has a high pain threshold. It has developed its own arms industry and it can defend itself.
Saudi Arabia has a very low pain threshold and cannot defend itself. As Trump himself reminded it, the kingdom would not last for two weeks without American protection.
Iran’s regional network is in place and fully functioning. Its weapons are locked and loaded. It has built a strategic alliance with two of the region's other military powers - Russia and Turkey - which appears able to survive considerable tensions in Syria.
Saudi Arabia’s regional network is crumbling. Its closest ally, the United Arab Emirates, has clearly parted company with the Saudi coalition assembled to fight the Houthis in Yemen. The UAE's announcement that its forces were leaving Yemen took the Saudis by surprise.
Then came the fight between rival proxy militias over the southern port of Aden, which involved Saudi and Emirati planes bombing each other’s Yemeni proxies. The Emirati plan - to install southern separatists in the south and leave the north to rot – clearly does not solve Riyadh’s problem, all of which continues in the north.
The tensions between the Saudis and the Emiratis over Yemen burst into state-controlled media.
When six Emiratis soldiers died recently, there was some evidence to believe that they had been killed in Libya, not in Yemen. The Emiratis could not admit their forces were fighting alongside Khalifa Haftar and thus breaking the international embargo.
The Saudi state run al Arabiya channel, which ironically is based in Dubai, refused to tow the official Emirati line and said merely the soldiers had been “killed”. They refused to describe them as martyrs.
This led to an extraordinary outburst from a UAE activist close to the government in Abu Dhabi, Hamed al Mazroui. Mazroui described Al Arabiya as "the whore of all media, with no competitor". He deleted the tweet but kept up his fire on its director Abdulrahman al-Rashed.
On the ground, the Houthis understand what the Emirates are trying to do and the implicit Faustian pact the UAE is making with Iran - you keep the north, we will have the south. The Houthis exchanged prisoners with Emirati-backed militias, while they refused a prisoner exchange with forces loyal to the exiled Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.
Wider afield, Iran now has established ties with Turkey and Russia, despite the very different agendas the three regional powers pursue in Syria. Not content with the chaos it has created in its own backyard, Saudi Arabia is continuing to seek new battlegrounds and opening up new fronts.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has lost patience, as he puts it, with Turkey over its handling of the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last Octobar in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. [Well, after all, the grisly murder, apparently ordered by the prince, took place in a Saudi embassy in Turkey!]
Accordingly, he has decided to step up his campaign against Turkey by fishing in Cypriot waters. The Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Adulaziz al Assaf said during a visit to Cyprus that Saudi Arabia supports the Greek Cypriots against Turkey’s oil and gas exploration in the Mediterranean.
Running out of allies
Not surprisingly, the Saudis are finding themselves with no ally to protect them. They cannot fight Iran alone. Stupidity and inexperience are the two guiding lights of its de facto ruler, the crown prince. Who else could have promised to take the battle "into the heart of Iran" only to find himself dousing fires in the heart of Saudi Arabia?
He is alone, save for a reluctant and quixotic US president who has fewer cards to play than he has. Trump’s behaviour is not a great return for the investment of hundreds of millions of riyals that bin Salman spent on US arms contracts.
The least that could be said of previous generations of Saudi leaders was that for all their faults, they kept cautious control of their region. They knew how to balance competing interests and played host to most of them.
Mohammed Bin Salman has thrown caution to the wind and now finds himself with few cards to play. Yemen, Oman and Jordan are hostile. Qatar and Turkey have openly sided with Iran. The Emiratis pursue their own agenda.
Unlike Iran, the Saudis are not used to hardship and are profoundly ill suited to waging a regional war which they themselves promoted. Perhaps that is why a profound silence will follow the show of shock and awe that took place on Saturday.
Analysis on RT blames US defence failure.
The US and its allies have acted on the assumption that the more money you throw at defence, the safer you are. The massive Houthi strike on the Saudi oil fields is proof that this is nonsense. Saudi has US Patriot defences and now it has wrecked oil processing facilities.
NSS has written previously on the myth that the Saudi use of exclusively dollars as reserves and for settlements in its oil business will keep the dollar afloat forever. Major investors in Treasuries believe this implicitly. Will they continue to keep the faith now after this? Will the next thing to fall be the dollar?
On the other hand I respectfully disagree with this analysis because it ignores the main point, namely, that the US has no business agreeing to defend another country. The Constitution says the armed forces are there to defend the nation, not a foreign dictatorship.
US defense failure… Why Washington has to blame Iran over Saudi attacks
The devastating blitz on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry has led to a flurry of accusations from US officials blaming Iran. The reason for the finger-pointing is simple: Washington’s spectacular failure to protect its Saudi ally.
The Trump administration needs to scapegoat Iran for the latest military assault on Saudi Arabia because to acknowledge that the Houthi rebels mounted such an audacious assault on the oil kingdom’s heartland would be an admission of American inadequacy.
Saudi Arabia has spent billions of dollars in recent years purchasing US Patriot missile defense systems and supposedly cutting-edge radar technology from the Pentagon. If the Yemeni rebels can fly combat drones up to 1,000 kilometers into Saudi territory and knock out the linchpin production sites in the kingdom’s oil industry, then that should be a matter of huge embarrassment for US “protectors.”
American defense of Saudi Arabia is germane to their historical relationship. Saudi oil exports nominated in dollars for trade – the biggest on the planet – are vital for maintaining the petrodollar global market, which is in turn crucial for American economic power. In return, the US is obligated to be a protector of the Saudi monarchy, which comes with the lucrative added benefit of selling the kingdom weapons worth billions of dollars every year.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Saudi Arabia has the world’s third biggest military budget, behind the US and China. With an annual spend of around $68 billion, it is the world’s number one in terms of percentage of gross domestic product (8.8 per cent). Most of the Saudi arms are sourced from the US, with Patriot missile systems in particular being a recent big-ticket item.
Yet for all that financial largesse and the finest American military technology, the oil kingdom just witnessed a potentially crippling wave of air assaults on its vital oil industry. Saudi oil production at its mammoth refinery complex at Abqaiq, 205 miles (330 kms) east of the capital Riyadh, was down 50 per cent after it was engulfed by flames following air strikes. One of the Saudi’s biggest oilfields, at Khurais, also in the Eastern Province, was also partially closed.
There are credible reports that the damage is much more serious than the Saudi officials are conceding. These key industrial sites may take weeks to repair.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo got it half right when he claimed, “Iran launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply”.
Yes, it is unprecedented. But Pompeo and other US officials have most likely got it wrong about blaming Iran.
Some Trump administration officials told US media that “cruise missiles” were responsible for the giant fireballs seen over the Saudi oil facilities. One was quoted anonymously as saying: “There’s no doubt that Iran is responsible for this… there’s no escaping it. There is no other candidate.”
In a hurried effort to substantiate accusations against Iran, satellite images were released which show what appears to be the aftermath of the air strike on the Abqaiq refinery complex. US officials claim the location of the explosions indicate the weapons originated not from Yemen to the south, but from either Iran or Iraq.
Even the normally dutiful New York Times expressed doubt about that claim, commenting in its report: “The satellite photographs released on Sunday did not appear as clear cut as officials suggested, with some appearing to show damage on the western side of facilities, not from the direction of Iran or Iraq.”
The accusations made by Pompeo and others are assertions in place of substantiated claims.
It is noteworthy that President Donald Trump refrained from openly blaming Iran by name, merely hinting at the possibility. If Pompeo is so adamant in fingering Iran, why didn’t Trump? Also, the president made a telling remark when he said he was “waiting for verification” from Saudi Arabia “as to who they believe was the cause of the attack.” Again, if US officials are explicitly accusing Iran then why is Trump saying he wants “verification” from the Saudis?
For its part, Iran has flatly dismissed the allegations that it had any involvement, saying that statements by Pompeo were “blind” and tantamount to setting up a conflict.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi also rejected claims that his country’s territory might have been used by pro-Iranian Shia militants to launch the air strikes.
The Houthi rebels in Yemen have issued unambiguous statements claiming responsibility for the air raids on the Saudi oil installations. They were specific that the weapons were drones, not missiles, adding with details that 10 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were deployed.
Notably too, most US media reported initially that the attacks were by drones flown from Yemen. Associated Press reported a level of sophistication in the attacks whereby drones were used first to disable the US Patriot radar systems before other UAVs proceeded to execute the air strikes.
It therefore seems that US officials are attempting to switch the story by blaming Iran. It is reckless scapegoating because the logical consequence could elicit a military attack against Iran, in which event Tehran has warned it is ready for war.
The rationale for blaming Iran is that the Yemeni rebels (which Iran supports politically) are just not capable of using drones with such dramatic success against the Saudi oil industry. The culprit must be Iran, so the rationale goes. This is a follow-on from alleged sabotage by Iran against oil tankers in the Persian Gulf earlier this summer.
However, a timeline shows that the Houthis are more than capable of launching ever-more powerful ballistic missiles and deeper penetrating drones into Saudi territory. The rebels have been using drones from the beginning of the war which the US-backed Saudi-UAE coalition launched on the southern Arabian country in March 2015.
Over the past four years, the Houthi aerial firepower has gradually improved. Earlier, the Saudis, with American defense systems, were able to intercept drones and missiles from Yemen. But over the last year, the rebels have increased their success rate for hitting targets in the Saudi interior, including the capital Riyadh.
In May this year, Houthi drones hit Saudi Arabia’s crucial east-west pipeline. Then in August, drones and ballistic missiles were reported to have struck the Shaybah oil field near the border with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as well as the Dammam exporting complex in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province.
The Yemenis claim they are taking the war to Saudi Arabia and the UAE after years of relentless air strikes on their homeland which have resulted in nearly 90,000 dead. A recent UN report censured the US, Britain and France for possible complicity in war crimes through their military support for the Saudi coalition.
There must be trepidation among the monarchs in Saudi Arabia and the UAE that the rebels from war-torn and starving Yemen are now coming after them with drones that could demolish their oil economies. What’s more, the much-vaunted American protector is not able to deliver on its strategic bargain, despite billions of dollars of Pentagon weaponry. That’s why Washington has to find an excuse by casting Iran as the villain.
Tulsi taunts Trump
Tulsi Gabbard, candidate for the US presidency, criticised Trump for saying he is waiting for word from Saudi as to who the Kingdom says is responsible and has repeated the tired old phrase that he is “locked and loaded” ready to attack whoever destroyed the Saudi Aramco plants. She says it sounds like he is a pimp treating the men and women in uniform as prostitutes.
On Monday US President Donald Trump said his country was “locked and loaded”, ready to respond to Saturday’s drone attacks targeting two Saudi Aramco plants in Saudi Arabia, which set the oil facilities ablaze and prompted the kingdom to halt about half of its crude output.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) iverbally attacked US President Donald Trump’s foreign policy on Monday evening.
In a video released on Twitter, Gabbard denounced the idea of defending Saudi Arabia: “We are not your prostitutes. You are not our pimp.”
Gabbard was responding to President Trump’s statements about a potential US response to a recent attack, claimed by Houthi rebels, on oilfields in Saudi Arabia that threatened global oil supplies and the security of a key Washington ally.
On 16 September, Donald Trump said the US was “locked and loaded” and ready to respond to drone attacks on a Saudi Aramco petroleum processing facility in Saudi Arabia. US officials claimed evidence pointed to Iranian involvement, despite the Yemeni Houthi rebels claiming responsibility.
The US president did not mention Iran, but wrote on Twitter he had “reason to believe that we know the culprit” behind the series of attacks on the Abqaiq facility that disrupted more than half of the kingdom’s oil output and will affect global supplies.
Trump tweeted: “[We] are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia] as to who they believe was the cause of this attack and under what terms we would proceed!”
Important reading from Global Research:
Will Trump Take Neocon Bait and Attack Iran over Saudi Strike?
By Rep. Ron Paul
The recent attacks on Saudi oil facilities by Yemeni Houthi forces demonstrate once again that an aggressive foreign policy often brings unintended consequences and can result in blowback. Read more...
Trump Awaits Orders from Saudis; and Why the Houthis Could Have Done It
By Juan Cole
Trump’s bizarre infatuation with strongmen and dictators was on full display in his response to Saturday’s drone attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities. Read more...
Impact of Yemeni Attack on Saudi ARAMCO Oil Facilities
By Peter Koenig and Press TV
When the Saudis agreed in the early 1970’s as head of OPEC and on behalf of OPEC, to sell crude only in US-dollars, the US Administration offered them in turn – “forever” military protection, in the form of multiple military bases in the Saudi territories. Read more...
Trump: Saudi Arabia’s Bitch
By Kurt Nimmo
“Saudi Arabia’s Bitch”. That’s what Democrat candidate Tulsi Gabbard calls President Trump for his slavish reliance on Saudi Arabia to declare Iran responsible for last weekend’s attack on Saudi oil resources. Read more...
Sanders Warns Trump Against Illegal Iran Strike
By Bryant Harris
The attack on the Saudi Aramco oil facility over the weekend and President Donald Trump’s subsequent tweet that the United States is “locked and loaded” immediately prompted presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to fire back. Read more...
The Ansarullah’s Drone Strike against Saudi Arabia’s Oil Facilities Was a Classic “David vs. Goliath” Moment?
By Andrew Korybko
This weekend’s massive drone strike by Yemen’s Ansarullah rebels against the world’s largest oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia was a classic David vs. Goliath moment where a smaller force inflicted a devastating blow against their much larger opponent, one which even surpasses its legendary predecessor because of its potential global consequences. Read more...
“Drone Attack” on Saudi Oil – Who Benefits?
By Tony Cartalucci
Following an ambiguous and evidence-free description of the supposed attacks, the BBC even included an entire section titled, “Who could be behind the attacks?” dedicated to politically expedient speculation aimed ultimately at Tehran. Read more...