By Sean Jackson
Early on Saturday, September 14th reports of airstrikes on Saudi Arabia’s Aramco crude oil processing facility surfaced, drawing international attention.The facility that was struck is the world’s largest oil processing plant, located in Abqaiq. The strikes are said to have knocked out the facility’s ability to produce 5.7 million barrels of oil production daily in Saudi Arabia – approximately 5 percent of the world’s daily production. In response to the attack, oil prices spiked on Saturday.
Satellite imagery released by the White House showed a total of 17 major impacts from unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs or cruise missiles at the facility’s two major installations.U.S. defense officials indicated that the assault on the oil installation likely came from Iranian soil. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted condemning the Iranians: “Tehran is behind nearly 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia while Rouhani and Zarif pretend to engage in diplomacy. Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply. There is no evidence that attacks came from Yemen.”
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper also tweeted after speaking with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman, stating, “The United States military, with our interagency team, is working with our partners to address this unprecedented attack and defend the international rules-based order that is being undermined by Iran.”
The U.S. government, while not directly blaming the Iranian government for the attack, suggests that Iran is at least complicit for the act. Iran has denied any involvement with the crippling attack with President Hassan Rouhani stating the attack is an act of retribution from the “Yemeni people.” The Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have aligned themselves with Iran, claimed responsibility.
This is not the first time that Saudi Arabia has been attacked via UAVs, as well as cruise and SCUD missiles from Yemen. An attack in 2017 on an airport in Riyadh left U.S. Defense and State officials with no choice but to accuse Iran of exporting ballistic missiles – a violation of UN sanctions against missile exports.
While the attack on the Saudi facility has left many pointing the finger at Iran, there has also been criticism towards how Saudi Arabia could have let this happen.
Gary Grappo, the former U.S. ambassador to Oman suggests the Saudi government shares the blame, stating, “I think the Saudi leadership has a great deal of explaining to do that a country that ranks third in terms of total defense spending… was not able to defend its most critical, and I can’t underscore that enough, its most critical oil facility from these kinds of attacks.”
Bob McNally, founder and president of Rapidan Energy Group stated that he was “disappointed, but not surprised by the attack, saying, “It’s a bit alarming that these folks got through. We looked at those photos that were released by the Trump administration – they were exquisitely precise, they knew exactly what to hit, they hit it perfectly.”