U.S. officials building a case against Iran after massive attack on Saudi

Attack on Saudi was large and sophisticated, satellite images show, and involved numerous drones.

September 17, 2019 16:44
1 minute read.
U.S. officials building a case against Iran after massive attack on Saudi

Fires burn in the distance after a drone strike by Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi group on Saudi company Aramco's oil processing facilities in Buqayq. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Satellite images released by US officials on Sunday showed the extent of damage on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil processing facility and at Khurais oil field. The images show 17 impact points on key petroleum infrastructure, including four hits on liquefied natural gas storage tanks. Half of the Saudi oil production was immobilized.

The images reveal extreme precision by the drones or cruise missiles that struck the oil facilities. ABC News reported on Monday that officials have ascertained that a dozen cruise missiles and 20 drones were fired in the attack. This degree of sophistication is beyond the ability of Yemen’s Houthi rebels, notwithstanding their claim of responsibility.

The Houthis are a key ally of Iran. The US has said there is no evidence the strike came from Yemen, which is 1,200 km. to the southwest, suggesting the strike was launched from much closer to the facilities, and perhaps were launched by pro-Iranian militias operating openly in Iraq.

“There is reason to believe that we know the culprit,” US President Donald Trump tweeted. Washington is awaiting word from Saudi Arabia, and the US is “locked and loaded.”

But the tensions rising in the Persian Gulf must be weighed against fears by America’s allies and the international community that the precision strikes are only the tip of the iceberg. The ability to launch 20 drones and a dozen missiles deep into Saudi territory – within 100 km. of US bases in Bahrain and elsewhere – is not only a massive escalation, but also means US forces could be targeted.

The developing nightmare for US policy makers and their allies is trying to thread the needle on how to respond. If they once again fail to respond, as Trump refrained from doing in June after a US drone was shot down by Iran, then the bluff will have been called. But if they respond militarily, they risk a regional war stretching from the Gulf of Oman to Iraq and the Persian Gulf.

The US has blamed Iran for sabotaging six oil tankers, for mortars and rockets fired near US bases in Iraq, and for the recent attack. In fact, the US has now accused Iran of more than 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia. Now all eyes are turned to the desert kingdom to see Riyadh’s reaction.

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