Edited by: Fern Sidman
As tensions continue to escalate in the Middle East in the aftermath of a formidable drone strike that obliterated half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production, Saudi King Salman said Tuesday his country is capable of defending itself against the “cowardly attacks” that were meant to adversely affect the international community in terms of a possible energy catastrophe. King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud also took the opportunity to call upon countries throughout the world to ‘clearly confront” the perpetrators.
VOA News reported that the Saudi Arabian government reiterated its accusation that Iranian weapons were used in the attack but offered no evidence of its claim.
The statement was in line with remarks made on Monday from the White House by President Trump in which he signaled that his administration is of the belief that Tehran was indeed responsible for the drone attacks, as has been speculated. Trump was holding off on offering a definitive conclusion, pending further investigation, according to the VOA report.
The Saudi Cabinet said the middle-of-the-night attacks early Saturday, cutting Riyadh’s oil production by 5.7 million barrels of crude oil a day, threatened international security and global energy supplies.
Trump offered mixed signals about a possible U.S. response to the attack on its ally, Saudi Arabia on Monday when he answered reporter’s questions from the Oval Office.
“I’m not looking to get into new conflict, but sometimes you have to,” he said. “That was a very large attack, and it could be met by an attack many, many times larger.”
“Certainly, it would look to most like it was Iran,” he concluded.
VOA reported that the president added that knowledge of the responsible party or parties of the drone attack will be made public “for certain over the next pretty short period.”
While hosting the crown prince of Bahrain, Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on Monday, Trump told reporters in the Oval office that while he does not want war with Iran, “The United States is more prepared” for a conflict than any country in history.
“With all that being said, we’d certainly like to avoid it,” Trump said.
With Trump strongly putting the message across that Iran was the culprit behind the drone attacks, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Tuesday dismissed the possibility of negotiating with Washington over its nuclear program unless the U.S. returned to the 2015 international pact that was initiated by former President Barack Obama in exchange for lifting economic sanctions against Iran, according to a VOA report.
Trump reimposed a gamut of crippling sanctions on Iran last year after withdrawing the U.S. from the controversial nuclear deal, thus sending the Iranian economy into a tailspin. In recent days, suggestions were made that Trump could possibly meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly next week.
The first time the idea of a possible US-Iran meeting became public was during the G7 Summit in France several weeks ago. According to published reports French President Emmanuel Macron invited Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to the summit, unbeknownst to the other world leaders present.
According to a Reuters report, a White House official said at the time that France’s invitation to Zarif for talks on the sidelines of the gathering in the southwestern beachside town of Biarritz was “a surprise”. Zarif met his French counterpart to assess what conditions could lead to a de-escalation of tensions between Tehran and Washington, a French official said. Zarif also saw French President Emmanuel Macron during his brief stay, but the White House official said the Iranian minister did not meet any U.S. officials before he flew out of Biarritz airport.
There had been suggestions circulating in recent days that Trump could meet next week with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani when both are at the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York City, according to a VOA report.
“Iranian officials, at any level, will never talk to American officials,” Khamenei said, adding that Trump’s attempt to link Iran to the drone attacks was “part of their policy to put pressure on Iran.”
With the uncertainty about responsibility for the drone attacks, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked the Trump administration to brief all 435 members of the House of Representatives on its intelligence findings, according to a VOA report.
On Monday, it was reported that the drone attacks caused crude oil prices to rise by approximately 15%, however, on Tuesday they retreated by 6%, as was reported by VOA.
The recent attacks on Saudi Arabia’s crude oil hub at the Abqaiq and Khurais production facilities reveal that even a nation with a sophisticated military and a massive defense budget is still vulnerable to drone strikes.
The United States says satellite images and intelligence information show Iranian weapons were used in the aerial attacks that have shut down half of the kingdom’s oil production. Security experts say this latest incident sparks growing concern over the rapid evolution of technologies expanding drones’ offensive capabilities, according to a VOA report.
Unidentified U.S. officials have been telling Western media that more than a dozen attacks targeted the installations from a west-northwest direction and not from the southwest as claimed by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen who said they carried out the coordinated assault, as was reported by VOA.
VOA reported that in July, the Houthis, who are fighting a Saudi-led coalition war in Yemen, showed off their Iranian-made weapons long-range cruise missiles, dubbed “Al-Quds”, and explosives-laden “Sammad 3” drones that reportedly can hit targets as far as 1,500 kilometers away.
No previous attack, since the Yemen conflict began four years ago, however, has interrupted oil supplies. But the assaults have taken 5.7 million barrels of oil a day off the world’s markets. They have also exposed the vulnerability of the pumping heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry.
Defense analysts say the attacks have exposed structural problems in the kingdom’s defenses. They say the systems – albeit sophisticated–are designed to defend against traditional-style attacks – and not asymmetrical ones from the air by drones.
Middle East analyst Theodore Karasik at Gulf State Analytics told VOA the incident’s security and military implications are huge.
“The gravity is really off the charts. This is literally the oil industry’s 9/11. The targeting of these two facilities was 100-percent successful in delivery of a swarm of cruise missiles and drones. This is the ultimate scenario for taking out energy infrastructure by use of this type of weaponry. The significance of the event itself and the damage done is unprecedented. We are dealing with a rapid escalation in terms of what the responses and counter responses will be,” he said.
Saudi authorities say their initial investigation shows Iranian devices were used in the attacks, but the location origin of the attacks was not clear and they were “working to determine the launch point.” Washington has urged Saudi Arabia to decide what the appropriate response to the attacks should be. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry has called for an international investigation into the incident, as was reported by VOA.
President Trump has said that any US military attack on Iran would be proportionate to the attacks carried out on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, according to the VOA report.
Speaking to reporters on the South Lawn on Monday afternoon, Trump, asked about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo directly blaming Iran for the attack on the Saudi installations, replied: “I think we’re the same. I think we just want to find out the final numbers and see.”
Diplomacy is never exhausted, said Trump who was also asked by reporters if he had promised the Saudis that the United States will protect them.
“No, I haven’t promised the Saudis that,” responded Trump. “We have to sit down with the Saudis and work something out.”
The president announced that Pompeo and other U.S. officials will travel to Saudi Arabia, according to the VOA report.
“We have tremendous amounts of oil in our country,” Trump said on the South Lawn in response to a VOA question about the ramifications of the spike in the cost of crude oil.
“It won’t affect us and ultimately I don’t think it’ll affect the world either but it won’t affect the United States,” added the president.
Trump also noted the strategic reserves of U.S. oil that he could order released.
Earlier in the day the president met at the White House with U.S. military leaders.
After the meeting, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said: “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.”
A Saudi military spokesman said an initial investigation suggested that “Iranian weapons” were used in the attack.
Citing the recent shakeup in the Trump administration that was marked by the president’s decision to fire National Security Advisor John Bolton last week, political pundits have speculated that the timing of the drone attack on Saudi Arabian oil fields (allegedly initiated by Iran) was not coincidental.
Those familiar with military and strategic affairs have opined that to the Iranians, Bolton represented the kind of hawkish posture that they feared in the Trump administration. According to Trump, Bolton was consistently beating the drum in favor of military conflict and rattling the proverbial sabre in Iran’s direction.
The rogue Iranian regime was fully cognizant that the only member of the Trump White House who possessed the keen ability to influence the president in terms of war decisions was Bolton. With his rather sudden but not totally unexpected departure from the Trump cabinet, some believe that Iran has seen an opening to escalate aggressions against the West and their allies in the Middle East and around the world.
One pundit who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that Iran now views Trump and his administration as weak and confused, lacking a clear-cut direction in terms of how or if to confront Iran, since Bolton’s departure.
“The mentality in the Middle East, mainly among Muslim countries and their leaders, is that they often misinterpret kindness for weakness and cowardliness. For the most part, these leaders and their flocks only comprehend and respect physical strength, brutality, military might and the willingness to use it at a moment’s notice, “ said the pundit.
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