Has Iran admitted it bombed Saudi Arabia’s Aramco as a message to Israel?

Reuters reported last week details from inside the planning rooms behind the attack.

A satellite image showing damage to oil/gas Saudi Aramco infrastructure at Khurais, in Saudi Arabia in this handout picture released by the U.S Government September 15, 2019 (photo credit: U.S. GOVERNMENT/REUTERS)
A satellite image showing damage to oil/gas Saudi Aramco infrastructure at Khurais, in Saudi Arabia in this handout picture released by the U.S Government September 15, 2019
(photo credit: U.S. GOVERNMENT/REUTERS)
Iran has increasingly accepted responsibility for the September 14 attack on Saudi Arabia’s Aramco oil facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais, doing away with the pretense that it was an attack carried out by Houthi rebels in Yemen. The admission has been made in snippets and leaks, the way a regime like Tehran prefers to send a message.
Journalist Farid Ahmed Hassan, writing in Al-Watan in an article reprinted in Al-Ain media over the weekend, noted that a recent Reuters article points to a high-level leak from Iran that takes responsibility for the attack.
The early morning attack involved 25 drones and numerous cruise missiles. It was planned and aimed at key oil facilities where there would be no civilians present but would cause extensive damage to the facilities.
The attack was sophisticated, avoiding known air defenses and not triggering a response from Riyadh or the US. This was Iran’s gamble – strike at the heart of Saudi Arabia, and see what the response would be.
Reuters reported last week details from inside the planning rooms behind the attack. The group of planners “included the top echelons of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), an elite branch of the Iranian military whose portfolio includes missile development and covert operations.”
Maj.-Gen. Hossein Salami, leader of the IRGC, led the discussion, saying that it was time to “take out our swords and teach them [the US and its allies] a lesson.” Four people told Reuters this information, according to the report. Reuters also claimed that “hardliners” encouraged an attack on US forces directly. However, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei approved the operation only so long as it avoided hitting any civilians or Americans.
This is a convenient narrative that benefits Iran. It shows Tehran’s military prowess, as well as the way it calculates an operation. It continues the fiction that the regime has “hardliners” and appears to present the elderly Supreme Leader as a “moderate.” But wait a second. How is it possible that four people who were either at the meeting or directly had knowledge of it, told Western media about this? Could it be that the four people familiar with the meeting are all Western intelligence sources? Why would one need four Western intelligence sources in this case?
The Al-Ain article argues that Salami has already hinted in speeches that Iran was behind the attack, when he claimed that the “world has seen how Iran will react if it gets angry.” It coincided with the leaks from Tehran, and Hassan concludes that the reality is that Iran purposely leaked this info to send a message. “The details are so numerous, clear and accurate that it could not be a slip of the tongue.”
He argues it’s clear that it was a leak from Iran, not another source, because it portrays Khamenei in such positive terms. Why did Iran launch the attack and then leak the details? Why did they “confess” to the attack two months after it happened?
In a statement to Reuters, Iran’s mission to the UN continues to deny it was behind the attack. But Iran’s Foreign Ministry may not have even been in the loop. This was an IRGC operation. Is it logical that Khamenei, who is 80, was involved in the details of the planning?
THE REALITY is that Western governments, particularly the US, have been blaming Iran for this attack for two months. French Defense Minister Florence Parly told the Manama Dialogue confab last week that the US had not responded to the Abqaiq attack. Clearly she didn’t hedge on whether Iran was responsible. “When the mining of ships went unanswered, the drone got shot,” she said to Middle East officials on September 22. We know Iran shot down the US Global Hawk drone on June 20. She was also referring to the attacks on ships in May and June in the Gulf of Oman. “When that in turn went unanswered, major oil facilities were bombed. Where does it stop?” This means that France and the US both unequivocally believe Tehran was behind the attack.
Iranian media dropped other hints it has admitted the attack, and has moved away from its original narrative that blamed the Houthi rebels, who are backed by the regime. An article at Fars News on Thursday looked at recent threats by Israel against Iran in Syria. It references Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett. “Bennett’s hasty remarks are in stark contrast to the assessments of the Zionist army and military institutions, such as Israeli Army Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi in private hearings on the likelihood of a similar Aramco-style drone strike against Tel Aviv. This cannot be completely prevented so long as Iran remains in Syria.”
Wait – what? Iran’s Fars news is basically admitting not only that Iran carried out the September 14 attacks against Saudi Arabia, but that this was a direct message against Israel. In this case, Fars appears to be repeating what it read in Israeli media, in which it believes that Israel assessed the Aramco attack to be a new kind of Iranian policy, and that this would mean Iran would likely respond to any Israeli attacks in Syria.
This was reported in The Jerusalem Post on November 26, in an article which noted that “Israel’s defense establishment is concerned that Iran might try to carry out an attack using cruise missiles or suicide drones, similar to the attack against Saudi Arabia’s Aramco gas facilities.”
One may deduce that Iran is keenly reading Israeli media. It also means that Iranian media, which reflects the regime’s overall narrative, is increasingly admitting responsibility for the attack in September. It has to admit this if it wants the attack to serve as a message to Israel, since it can’t seriously argue that the Houthi rebels in Yemen pose a major threat to Israel. Iran wants to argue that it poses a threat from Syria. To do that, it has to openly discuss its role there and its drone abilities. This is not a surprise. On Friday, Tasnim news ran an article about new Iranian military drones that are operational.
Iran’s media – and those opposed to Iran writing in Bahrain – may merely be speaking in hypotheticals. But the overall picture is that Iran is giving to its journalists more free rein to write the reality of Iran’s threats, while analysts in the Gulf are exploring the methods by which leaks from Iran or elsewhere may inform Western media narratives.