U.S. Points At Iran In Saudi Oil Facility Attack And Trump Hints At Military Action

While the world continues to evaluate the impact of Saturday's attack on a Saudi oil facility, tensions in the Persian Gulf are increasing.

The United States is quietly pushing the argument that Iran was behind the weekend attack on a major Saudi oil facility, leading President Trump to take to Twitter to hint at military action against the Islamic Republic:

The Trump administration intensified its focus on Iran Sunday as the likely culprit behind attacks on important Saudi Arabian oil facilities over the weekend, with officials citing intelligence assessments to support the accusation and President Trump warning that he was prepared to take military action.

The government released satellite photographs showing what officials said were at least 17 points of impact at several Saudi energy facilities from strikes they said came from the north or northwest. That would be consistent with an attack coming from the direction of the northern Persian Gulf, Iran or Iraq, rather than from Yemen, where the Iranian-backed Houthi militia that claimed responsibility for the strikes operates.
Administration officials, in a background briefing for reporters as well as in separate interviews on Sunday, also said a combination of drones and cruise missiles — “both and a lot of them,” as one senior United States official put it — might have been used. That would indicate a degree of scope, precision and sophistication beyond the ability of the Houthi rebels alone.

Mr. Trump, however, did not name Iran, saying he needed to consult with Saudi Arabia first.

“Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked,” he said in a tweet on Sunday evening. “There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Saturday that Iran was behind what he called “an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply” and asserted that there was “no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.” He did not, however, say where they came from, and the Saudis refrained from directly blaming Iran.

The administration’s determination that Iran played a direct role in the attack marked a significant escalation in months of back-and-forth tensions between the United States and Iran. It raised questions about how Washington might retaliate — and why Iran would have risked such a confrontation.

Mr. Trump’s warning echoed one he made in June after Iran shot down an American surveillance drone. He said then that the military had been “cocked and loaded” for a strike against Iran.

He said he called off the strike with 10 minutes to spare when a general told him that 150 people would probably die in the attack, which he said would have been disproportionate.

Administration officials said on Sunday they would seek to declassify more intelligence to buttress their case against Iran in the coming days.

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 the facilities, not from the direction of Iran or Iraq.
American officials said that more than 17 weapons were directed at the Saudi facilities, but not all reached their targets. Forensic analyses of the recovered weapons could answer questions about what they were, who manufactured them and who launched them.

As the Times goes on to note, the Iranians have denied any involvement in the attacks and have accused the President and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of recklessly increasing tensions in the region. At the same time, though, it’s worth noting that this type of attack would be consistent with recent Iranian actions:

Squeezed by sweeping American sanctions on its oil sales, Iran has sought to inflict a similar pain on its adversaries — threatening the ability of Saudi Arabia and other American allies in the Persian Gulf to sell oil and holding out the possibility of driving up international oil prices in the months before President Trump seeks re-election.

“Iran wants to show that instead of a win-lose contest, Iran can turn this into a lose-lose dynamic for everyone,” said Ali Vaez, head of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group.

Yet Iran has stopped short of carrying out the kind of direct, open attack on United States allies that might trigger a military response, preferring to let regional allies do the work or at least share the blame.

“Plausible deniability is a trademark of Iran’s pushback strategy,” Mr. Vaez said.

The combination of military pressure and deniability also fits with a strategy of increasing Iran’s bargaining power before possible talks at the United Nations this month.

(…)

How the Trump administration responds remains to be seen. Breaking with a pattern under both Democratic and Republican presidents, the Trump administration has said that it intends to hold Iran fully responsible for any attacks carried out by the Houthis or other regional allies that the administration deems Iranian proxies.

Previous administrations have said that Iran was arming and training allied groups such as the Lebanese militia Hezbollah and Shiite militias in Syria or Iraq to extend its regional influence. Yet in the past, the United States has generally declined to retaliate against Iran militarily even when those groups have attacked the American military, as Iranian-backed Shiite militias did during American occupation of Iraq.

Here are Trump’s tweets on the matter:

Trump’s last tweet is contradicted by a comment he made just a few days ago where he said he would potentially be willing to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in connection with next weeks’ meetings at the United Nations. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated that point just a few days later, although it’s worth noting that both comments came before Saturday’s attack. For their part, though, the Iranians have said that no such meeting would take place unless the United States lifted at least some of the sanctions it reimposed after President Trump repudiated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), something which seems rather unlikely at this point.

In the meantime, the attack is having the expected impact on global oil and gasoline futures markets, with overnight trading showing prices increasing sharply. As a result, this is having an expected, albeit somewhat muted, negative impact on world stock markets as well as stock futures here in the United States. The question that remains unanswered is what the impact on global oil markets will be over the long term. There still isn’t much indication of the extent to which the attack has damaged Saudi Arabia’s ability to keep oil flowing and it’s unknown how long it will take for the facility to recover from the attack. The answer to that question will have a huge impact on global oil and gas markets and on the world economy.

As for the question of what impact all of this will have on tension in the Persian Gulf region, that too remains to be seen with the ultimate question being whether any definitive conclusions can be reached regarding responsibility for the attack. According to some reports, at least some of the drones involved in the attack may have been recovered near the attack site. If that is true, then it may be possible to trace back ownership, determine where the drones were launched from, something that has not been confirmed yet, and who may have launched them. The answers to those and many other questions will determine if this is a short-term crisis or something that leads to more significant events.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Iran, Middle East, National Security, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Hal_10000 says:

    but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!

    I’m just imaging in the Chernobyl-grade meltdowns the Republicans would be having if Obama set foreign policy contingent about what a radical Islamic theocracy wanted us to do.

    Given that we just signed a $300 billion arms deal with the Saudis, I think this is a war they can fight on their own. No need for us to get involved.

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  2. Kit says:

    On what terms… Are the Saudis giving the orders, or placing an order?

    Does this locked and loaded crap come across as anything but pandering to anyone? What about expediting approvals for oil pipelines? I guess he knows his base. For the rest of us, I can only say that destroying trust in government has consequences.

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  3. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!

    Looks like the investments the Saudi’s have made in Trump-world are paying off.
    I’m old enough to remember a day when a Democrat speaking like this would have been a major crisis, and grounds for immediate impeachment proceedings.
    Everyday Trump makes the Republicans look more and more spineless, if not outright treasonous.

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  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The answers to those and many other questions will determine if this is a short-term crisis or something that leads to more significant events.

    This isn’t ending any time soon. Wherever the drones came from, I don’t for a second believe they weren’t flying at the Iranian’s behest. They are sending a message and its meaning is crystal clear:

    “Fuck with us at your economic peril.”

    By themselves they can’t destroy the world economy, but with all the signs of it weakening it would appear they can destroy trump’s presidency. At the moment I can’t think of a single reason why they wouldn’t.

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  5. mattbernius says:

    @Hal_10000:

    I’m just imaging in the Chernobyl-grade meltdowns the Republicans would be having if Obama set foreign policy contingent about what a radical Islamic theocracy wanted us to do.

    Heck, let’s not forget how Clinton’s too-close relationship with the Saudi’s was something that Republicans directly attacked her for during the 2016 election (just look at some of the threads here).

    Beyond that, I’m going to quote something I just wrote on a separate thread here a few minutes ago:

    A few days I wrote here that I thought a “yes man” in NatSec would be better than Bolton and this is exactly why.

    I will be very surprised if we take any military action. Again, what we have seen over and over again is that Trump will talk very aggressively and almost never follow through (the one exception being with Assad in Syria and I think that had more to do with Obama’s red line than anything else).

    That isn’t to say he cannot be pushed into action. But everything shows that his tendency isn’t towards direct military action. So the fewer people around him advocating for that, the better.

    The Kingdom or Israel may attack, but this is a proxy war and I’d be really surprised if we directly attack Iran. I do expect more useless sanctions. And Macron’s attempt to revive the Iran Deal through the credit float is now definitely DOA.

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  6. MarkedMan says:

    No one in this administration has any credibility, much less sufficient to lead us to war. Trump is being played by the Israelis or the Saudis or both.

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  7. gVOR08 says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    I’m old enough to remember a day when a Democrat speaking like this would have been a major crisis, and grounds for immediate impeachment proceedings.

    In general it’s interesting to ask what Rs would have done had a D done what Trumpsky did. In this case I’m not sure, had Obama expressed fealty to the Saudis, that Rs wouldn’t have welcomed it as a return to accepted norms under the Bushes.

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  8. Jen says:

    @gVOR08: Nah, they still would have had a fit, because it was Obama. Remember, Romneycare was an amazing solution until it served as the basis for Obamacare.

    Consistency is not a Republican virtue.

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  9. Tyrell says:

    A flyover of some USAF B’52’s would fix their attitude.

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  10. mattbernius says:

    @Tyrell:

    A flyover of some USAF B’52’s would fix their attitude.

    Gotta love those pro-war Christians.

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  11. gVOR08 says:

    @Tyrell: Whose attitude? Remember, the Twit said we’re waiting for the Saudis to tell us who we think did it.

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  12. Mr. Prosser says:

    @gVOR08: The national anthem of Saudi Arabia in “Onward Christian Soldiers.”

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  13. michael reynolds says:

    @Tyrell:
    Explain why this is any of our business. Explain why it’s so much our business that we should start yet another war.

    Try this. Complete the following sentence:

    Dear Mrs. Farhad, the US Air Force will be bombing the factory next door to your house and in the process will kill your husband and your son and cripple your daughter because _______________.

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  14. Fortunato says:

    ..if this is a short-term crisis or something that leads to more significant events.

    I’m all for ‘more significant events’.
    Specifically, I think we should immediately send in an elite fighting ground force. Take the attack right to the very heart of evil – the religious zealots and war-mongering Mullahs of Iran who, in the name of religion, have perpetually stoked the fires of hatred among the most ill-informed of their masses as a means of holding on to their power.

    And we should fight fire, with fire.
    Our initial assault should be led by none other than Jerry Falwell Jr. and Brett Kavanaugh. Accompanying them should be the elite fighting force of Robert Jeffress, Steve King, Louie Gohmert, Liz Cheney, Erik Trump, Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan, Devin Nunes, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs, Dinesh D’Souza and Doug Collins.

    Each successive week we can parachute in a new squadron of right wing warriors and their religious champions.
    Someone should notify Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, Tony Perkins, James Dobson and John Hagee that their turn in the barrel is coming up.
    Bill O’Reilly, Mark Halperin, Michelle Bachmann and Newt Gingrich should be informed that their days of lounging around in the comfort of their grifting riches are about to come to an abrupt end.

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  15. gVOR08 says:

    I’m cynical enough to hope someone credible gets a look at the damage and verifies any casualties. I would not be remotely surprised to find the damage was largely superficial and casualties less than might be expected on a normal night shift. At least among Saudi supervisors and managers, if not the foreigners doing any actual work. Sorry, but what do you expect after two and a half years of Trump and decades of the Saudi royals? They, and Netanyahu, see the window of opportunity Trump represents rapidly closing. It’s unlikely Elizabeth Warren can be bought as easily as Trump and the Bushes.

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  16. gVOR08 says:

    @Fortunato: Please don’t leave out John Bolton.

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  17. Slugger says:

    Right now, in Riyadh, some guy is thinking that a relatively cheap attack on his country produced considerable damage. If his country green lights a US military action on those Shia s.o.b.s, then the Shia may undertake a second strike. Those drones/cruise missiles that hit are cheap and easy to make, and surely the ten that hit do not totally deplete the armamentarium of the other guys. This hypothetical Saudi strategist probably has no qualms about putting a lot of American soldiers in harm’s way but is averse to strikes on his country. The Sauds are going to think long and hard before any shooting starts; they are perfectly aware of the fact that their arms, a policy of actual starvation, and a plague of childhood deaths from disease has not produced a victory in Yemen.
    I predict that any action by the US will produce some explosions to allow us to puff up our chests but not enough damage to provoke further bombing of KSA. Right now, thinkers in the Pentagon are trying to thread this needle. Perhaps a purely for show B-52 overflight as suggested by Tyrell will serve as a facesaving gesture.

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  18. gVOR08 says:

    WIKI and others report Iran has Russian S300 air defense missile systems. Without taking out these defenses, it’s unlikely B-52s could survive in Iranian airspace except at the sufferance of the Iranians. B-2s maybe. But would our military risk B-2s for a demonstration?

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  19. Chip Daniels says:

    @michael reynolds:
    With equal measure:
    “Dear Mrs. Doe- Your son was killed in action because…”

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  20. Fortunato says:

    @gVOR08:
    Bolton will be dropped behind enemy lines with the brutal fighting trio of P.J., Toobin and Squi, aka Kavanaugh’s Cretins.

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  21. Fortunato says:

    @gVOR08:
    the Twit said we’re waiting for the Saudis to tell us who we think did it.

    The Saudis are no doubt in talks right now with Rupert Murdoch and Erik Prince on how to most effectively profit from the deployment of yet more American blood and treasure.
    Their ultimate instructions to Incurious Orange will no doubt be limited to the 140 or fewer characters required to set into motion their decades enveloping, multi-trillion dollar plan.

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  22. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Looks like the investments the Saudi’s have made in Trump-world are paying off.

    FYI…The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia owns the entire 45th floor of Trump World Tower.

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  23. Gustopher says:

    I think we should wait to see what Jamal Kashoggi has to say on this matter. An independent minded journalist with connections inside the Kingdom, and who doesn’t take their statements at face value.

    Oh, wait, the Saudis lured him to their consulate, then tortured him to death and cut up his body with bone saws.

    There were probably very fine people on both sides of that bone saw.

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  24. michael reynolds says:

    @Chip Daniels:
    The funny thing is I’m typically more ready to use military power than most people on my side of the aisle, but I despise the soft-pedaling and the outright lies. If we go to war we will kill innocent people. We will kill children. We will make orphans both on their end and ours. And in the end it will all likely prove to be a mistake.

    If you can’t face the absolute fact that you will be burning children don’t go to war. Don’t go to war on the back of self-deception, face the fking reality and either decide it’s worth it, or not worth it, but no more of the over-by-Christmas, we’ll show ’em, just the bad guys will die bullsht.

    Would I risk my kid’s lives for a war with Iran on behalf of Saudi Arabia? Hell no. In 1942 I’d have packed them both off to war. Ditto Afghanistan after 9/11. But to play mercenary for the scumbag MBS and the land of Al Qaeda’s birth? no way.

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  25. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Tyrell: Sure worked like a charm on the N. Vietnamese, right? Right??

    Funny how some people think that which never worked in the past is going to get the job done this time.

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  26. Kathy says:

    Trump has the client state relationship confused. See, the great power is not supposed to be the client.

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  27. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: “If you can’t face the absolute fact that you will be burning children don’t go to war.”

    Although I think we have disagreed on when to go to war, on this much we are in lockstep. You go to war when the necessity of the conflict outweighs the horrors that will ensue.

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  28. al Ameda says:

    Frankly, I was wondering if these people – Mike Pompeo or Mitch McConnell – would fabricate an incident, or assign falsely blame to Iran – in order to bomb Iran.

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  29. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Hal_10000: Fortunately, Saudi Arabia isn’t a radical Islamic theocracy, it’s a trusted ally.

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  30. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Fortunato: You’ll have to settle for Gordon. At 89, Pat can barely sit up or speak coherent sentences anymore let alone fight in a war, no matter how much he might want to. And Gordon and Terry are the dominant faces on the show now from what I’ve been able to tell when I come across it.

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  31. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @al Ameda: I hate to be this guy (actually I don’t; it comes as naturally to me as breathing–maybe more than breathing as I have asthma), but you really have to ask that question?

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  32. Carol says:

    I simply can’t believe anything this administration says. Juan Cole says the Houthis could have done it. I’m with him until we know more. https://www.juancole.com/2019/09/awaits-orders-houthis.html

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  33. al Ameda says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    …but you really have to ask that question?

    Yeah, I know.
    I realize that senators and congressmen have to be careful in raising that kind of rude question so directly, but someone has to demand to see the intelligence before we do as the Saudis and Netanyahu want, that is, attack Iran

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  34. An Interested Party says:

    Trump has the client state relationship confused. See, the great power is not supposed to be the client.

    With Saudi Arabia and Israel…and let’s not even talk about what a great guy he thinks the North Korean dictator is…foreign leaders around the world must be laughing their asses off about what American leadership has become…

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  35. dennis says:

    @Hal_10000:

    I disagree with your characterization of Iran as “radical.” Trump has revived Realist politics to its most raw fashion, and Iran is acting for its own interests, just as the U.S. does. There are several agents who would like to see the U.S. embroiled in another blood-spilling, treasury-draining, populace-demoralizing ME war. Some of those agents want to see the U.S. spread thin and weak; others want the U.S. to do their dirty work for them in the region. Whichever, military action against Iran is a fool’s errand. It’s equally foolish to blithely dismiss Iran as simply a radical theocracy, as if it has no geopolitical calculations and concerns of its own.

    As flawed as it is, the JCPOA served a purpose that would have given the international community 10-15 years to negotiate with Iran, address the genuine concerns of all parties, and possibly bring Iran to the international table as a good-faith participant. Trump f****d that all to hell, though, with his thoughtless ego and feckless non-leadership.

    I’m no Iran apologist, but the time has long passed that the Western powers, the U.S. in particular, can act as though the genuine security concerns of other nations can be ignored with no consequence. We might be sitting in an entirely different political reality if the Obama administration hadn’t antagonized Russia with its ham-handed attempt to expand NATO right up against Russia’s border. The hubris of U.S. foreign policy is fast approaching its zenith, and we’d better adjust pretty damned quickly, or another interstate war is going to be inadvertently triggered.

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  36. dennis says:

    @Hal_10000:

    Of course, if you were referring to KSA, I apologize profusely for the screed, and stand corrected.

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  37. wr says:

    @al Ameda: “Frankly, I was wondering if these people – Mike Pompeo or Mitch McConnell – would fabricate an incident, or assign falsely blame to Iran – in order to bomb Iran.”

    Are you insane, man? That’s like suggesting that the US government would fabricate an assault on a naval vessel in order to escalate the war in Vietnam… or use an accidental explosion in a ship’s munitions stores in order to launch a war to grab Cuba from Spain!

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