(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)
Robert Gates, the former defense secretary, once scoffed that Saudi Arabia “wants to fight the Iranians to the last American.”
The danger is that we slip toward that nightmare. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says that Iran has committed an “act of war” by attacking Saudi oil processing centers. Influential hawks like Senator Lindsey Graham have suggested carrying out strikes on Iranian oil refineries.
Meanwhile, Iran is warning that it will retaliate for any strike with a “rapid and crushing” response.
President Trump faces a conundrum. If Iran was behind the attack on Saudi Arabia, that was a serious provocation. It’s reasonable to wonder if Iranian leaders are emboldened because they see Trump as someone full of just bluster and bombast.
“He is not a lion, he is a rabbit,” said Ali Bigdeli, a political analyst in Tehran, according to a Times article by David D. Kirkpatrick and Farnaz Fassihi.
Iran may have concluded that Trump is the mother of all bunny rabbits after the lack of any kinetic response to attacks on oil shipping in May and June, or to Iran’s shooting down of an American drone in June.
The upshot is that hawks are urging Trump to be tougher this time and to consider bombing Iranian targets. That would be even more dangerous than a perception of weakness, for it could quickly escalate. Iran would strike back at sites in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates or Bahrain, and it would target American troops in Iraq or Afghanistan.
A full war with Iran would be a catastrophe. Iran has twice the population of Iraq and would be a much more formidable foe than Iraq was.
So Trump has a genuine dilemma: Inaction may be perceived as weakness, while military strikes may escalate and drag us into cataclysm. But this is a dilemma of Trump’s own making.
We are in this mess because Trump abandoned the landmark 2015 Iranian nuclear deal. Hawks argued that we could apply maximum pressure on Iran and inflict such pain that it would buckle, without appreciating that Iran could also ramp up the pressure on us.
That’s the problem with hawks. They plan out their chess games and triumphantly plot a checkmate without appreciating the basic lesson of Sun Tzu or Clausewitz that the other side also gets to move.
Unfortunately, without the Iran nuclear deal, all options are bad. We should be searching for ways to return to the agreement, with face-saving tweaks that would allow both Trump and the Iranian supreme leader to claim victory.
Instead, I’m afraid we risk slipping into conflict. Nobody wants a war, but getting out of this will require skillful diplomacy, which isn’t something the Trump team has much demonstrated.
We need not be Saudi Arabia’s guard dog, or lap dog. Yes, Iran is a threat to international security — but so is Saudi Arabia. It is Saudi Arabia that kidnapped Lebanon’s prime minister, caused a schism with Qatar and created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
Attacking Saudi oil installations was a breach of global norms — as was murdering and dismembering a columnist for The Washington Post who was a resident of the United States. Saudi Arabia has the gall to call for an international inquiry into the attack on its oil installations, even as it blocks any international investigation into the murder of my friend Jamal Khashoggi.
Macabre new transcripts show that the Saudi hit squad was discussing the dismemberment even before Jamal walked into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. “I know how to cut very well,” one member of the team said. “I have never worked on a warm body, though.”
Saudi Arabia continues to imprison a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Loujain al-Hathloul, after earlier torturing and sexually assaulting her for advocating women’s rights. The kingdom apparently offered Hathloul freedom if she would publicly deny that she had been tortured; she bravely refused.
Trump might seek Saudi input on whether to go to war with Iran by placing a call not only to a killer on a throne but also to a hero in prison.
If Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wants to respond militarily to the airstrikes on its oil facilities, he can go ahead with the kingdom’s own fighter jets and missiles. But this is not our fight. Nor should it be our graveyard.
This is a struggle between two misogynistic, repressive regimes that are both destabilizing the region. And Trump’s suggestion that we will be well paid for defending Saudi Arabia is an insult to our troops, casting them as mercenaries working for a thuggish potentate.
Our task instead should be to cooperate with European countries to get out of this muck and find a way back into the Iranian nuclear agreement.
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(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SAUDI ARABIA’S ASHARQ AL-AWSAT NEWS)
France, Lebanon Condemn Attacks on Saudi Oil Facilities
“France firmly condemns yesterday’s attacks on the Abqaiq and Khurais oil installations,” the ministry said in a statement that also expressed “complete solidarity” with Saudi Arabia.
“These actions can only worsen regional tensions and risk of conflict,” the French statement added. “It is imperative that they stop.”
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri slammed on Sunday the attacks, deeming them a “dangerous escalation that threatens to widen the arena of conflicts in the region.”
He said the attacks demand that the international community assume major responsibilities to put an end to “aggression and terrorism that are sweeping through the Arab world and jeopardizing regional stability.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday accused Iran of launching attacks on Saudi oil plants, ruling out the involvement of the Tehran-aligned Houthi militias in Yemen.
The Houthis claimed credit for the attacks, but Pompeo firmly placed blame on Iran.
“Tehran is behind nearly 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia while Rouhani and Zarif pretend to engage in diplomacy,” Pompeo said, referring to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif.
“Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply,” he added.
(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)
Saudi Arabia oil facilities ablaze after drone strikes
Drone attacks have set alight two major oil facilities run by the state-owned company Aramco in Saudi Arabia, state media say.
Footage showed a huge blaze at Abqaiq, site of Aramco’s largest oil processing plant, while a second drone attack started fires in the Khurais oilfield.
The fires are now under control at both facilities, state media said.
A spokesman for the Iran-aligned Houthi group in Yemen said it had deployed 10 drones in the attacks.
The military spokesman, Yahya Sarea, told al-Masirah TV, which is owned by the Houthi movement and is based in Beirut, that further attacks could be expected in the future.
He said Saturday’s attack was one of the biggest operations the Houthi forces had undertaken inside Saudi Arabia and was carried out in “co-operation with the honorable people inside the kingdom”.
Saudi officials have not yet commented on who they think is behind the attacks.
“At 04:00 (01:00 GMT), the industrial security teams of Aramco started dealing with fires at two of its facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais as a result of… drones,” the official Saudi Press Agency reported.
“The two fires have been controlled.”
There have been no details on the damage but Agence France-Presse quoted interior ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki as saying there were no casualties.
Abqaiq is about 60km (37 miles) south-west of Dhahran in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, while Khurais, some 200km further south-west, has the country’s second largest oilfield.
Saudi security forces foiled an attempt by al-Qaeda to attack the Abqaiq facility with suicide bombers in 2006.
An attack method open to all
Jonathan Marcus, BBC defence and diplomatic correspondent
This latest attack underlines the strategic threat posed by the Houthis to Saudi Arabia’s oil installations.
The growing sophistication of the Houthis’ drone operations is bound to renew the debate as to where this capability comes from. Have the Houthis simply weaponised commercial civilian drones or have they had significant assistance from Iran?
The Trump administration is likely to point the finger squarely at Tehran, but experts vary in the extent to which they think Iran is facilitating the drone campaign.
The Saudi Air Force has been pummelling targets in Yemen for years. Now the Houthis have a capable, if much more limited, ability to strike back. It shows that the era of armed drone operations being restricted to a handful of major nations is now over.
Drone technology – albeit of varying degrees of sophistication – is available to all; from the US to China, Israel and Iran… and from the Houthis to Hezbolllah.
Markets await news from key facilities
Analysis by BBC business correspondent Katie Prescott
Aramco ranks as the world’s largest oil business and these facilities are significant.
The Khurais oilfield produces about 1% of the world’s oil and Abqaiq is the company’s largest facility – with the capacity to process 7% of the global supply. Even a brief or partial disruption could affect the company, and the oil supply, given their size.
But whether this will have an impact on the oil price come Monday will depend on just how extensive the damage is. Markets now have the weekend to digest information from Aramco and assess the long-term impact.
According to Richard Mallinson, geopolitical analyst at Energy Aspects, any reaction on Monday morning is likely to be muted, as markets are less worried about supply than demand at the moment, due to slower global economic growth and the ongoing trade war between the US and China.
However, there are concerns that escalating tensions in the region could pose a broader risk, potentially threatening the fifth of the world’s oil supply that goes through the critical Strait of Hormuz.
Who are the Houthis?
The Iran-aligned Houthi rebel movement has been fighting the Yemeni government and a Saudi-led coalition.
Yemen has been at war since 2015, when President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi was forced to flee the capital Sanaa by the Houthis. Saudi Arabia backs President Hadi, and has led a coalition of regional countries against the rebels.
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The coalition launches air strikes almost every day, while the Houthis often fire missiles into Saudi Arabia.
Mr Sarea, the Houthi group’s military spokesman, told al-Masirah that operations against Saudi targets would “only grow wider and will be more painful than before, so long as their aggression and blockade continues”.
Houthi fighters were blamed for drone attacks on the Shaybah natural gas liquefaction facility last month and on other oil facilities in May.
There have been other sources of tension in the region, often stemming from the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Saudi Arabia and the US both blamed Iran for attacks in the Gulf on two oil tankers in June and July, allegations Tehran denied.
In May, four tankers, two of them Saudi-flagged, were damaged by explosions within the UAE’s territorial waters in the Gulf of Oman.
Saudi Arabia and then US National Security Adviser John Bolton blamed Iran. Tehran said the accusations were “ridiculous”.
Tension in the vital shipping lanes worsened when Iran shot down a US surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz in June, leading a month later to the Pentagon announcing the deployment of US troops to Saudi Arabia.