Introduction – Sept 18, 2019
As has been pointed out elsewhere, Houthi rebels have shown themselves to be remarkably adept in using drones against Saudi infrastructure.
The display of drone wreckage by the Saudis, below, proves little however. While the Iranians have undoubtedly been supplying the Houthi rebels with basic ordnance the rebels themselves have also been producing their own drones, some of them quite sophisticated.
Crucially, at one point during the press briefing below the Saudi spokesman admitted that “the missiles may have come from Yemen’s Houthi rebels”, exactly as Iran and the Houthis assert.
In the past year Houthi drones have repeatedly struck the Saudis or their allies. In January this year Houthi drones killed six government troops at the al-Anad base in Yemen.
In August Houthi drones struck Saudi oil fields, although damage was limited in that attack.
So while the Iranians may supply them with basic ordnance, Houthi rebels are more than capable of launching drone strikes without any Iranian assistance.
In other words, claims that Iran was behind the attacks on the Saudi oil facility don’t stand up to scrutiny. The trouble is, they don’t have to. If Trump and his hawkish allies want to justify strikes on Iran they will, no matter how unconvincing the evidence. Ed.
Saudi offers proof of Iran’s role in oil attack and urges US response
Patrick Wintour – The Guardian Sept 18, 2019
Saudi Arabia has ramped up the pressure on Donald Trump to respond to a devastating strike on two major oil installations, by displaying drone and missile technology it insisted showed the attack was “unquestionably sponsored by Iran”.
A Saudi defence spokesman at a high-profile press conference claimed that a total of 25 drones and cruise missiles were used in the attack on the Aramco facilities on Saturday, saying repeatedly they had been fired from the north, the direction of Iran.
The Saudi move came on a day when:
- Trump asked the US Treasury to expand sanctions on Iran.
- President Hassan Rouhani of Iran insisted the attack had been carried out by Houthi rebels in Yemen, and threatened to respond to any US military attacks.
- The Houthis held their own press conference to substantiate their claim of responsibility.
- And Trump discussed the crisis by phone with Boris Johnson, agreeing on “the need for a united diplomatic response”, according to No 10.
At the Saudi press conference, Lt Col Turki al-Maliki said Saudi Arabia was still working to identify the precise launch point of the attack, but claimed the debris and data technology was of Iranian origin, and promised to share all the evidence with the UN and Saudi’s allies.
He also repeatedly asserted it was the responsibility of the whole international community to respond, saying: “Iran’s continued aggression and continued support for militia groups harms us all … We call the international community to hold Iran responsible; all its actions show and portray its aggression.”
He said Saudi Arabia had recently intercepted a total of 282 ballistic missiles and 258 UAVs or drones. The bulk of these are likely to have come from Yemen.
He added: “The cruise missiles used were of advanced capability, we have the date of the manufacture which is 2019 – Iran’s IRGC has this type of weaponry – all the evidence that we have gathered from the site proves that Iran’s weaponry was used in the attack.”
The cruise missile could not reach the oil facilities if they had been fired from Yemen, he said. “The use of cruise missiles is beyond the capabilities of the Iran proxy in Yemen,” he explained.
But despite the impressive display of fallen ordnance, the Saudis have clearly not yet been unable to make an unanswerable case that Iran was directly involved. At one point he said the missiles may have come from Yemen’s Houthi rebels, as Iran and the Houthis themselves assert.
The show of weaponry came as the Saudi deputy defence minister, Khalid bin Salman, lavished praise on the US administration for confronting “the Iranian regime’s and terrorist organisations’ aggression in an unprecedented way” – adding that “we in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia thank the [US] president for his stance, we will continue to stand with the USA against the forces of evil and senseless aggression”.
But he also pointedly reminded the US that Barack Obama had committed the US in 2015 to an unequivocal policy “to use all elements of power to secure our core interests in the Gulf region and confront external aggression against our partners and our allies, as we did in the Gulf war”.
Former Obama administration officials say this did not amount to a treaty, but a unilateral statement of US policy.
So far Trump has proved reluctant to use force to rein in Iran, and in his first practical response since Saturday’s attack he revealed he had asked the US Treasury to expand sanctions on Iran.
The US Treasury has been mounting an ever more exhaustive regime of sanctions on the country since the US pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal last year in an attempt to force Tehran to reopen and broaden the deal.
It is unlikely a further package of already heavily deployed sanctions will be the limit of the US response to the attack on Saudi Arabia, and a range of military responses are being proposed to the president, prompting a formal written warning to the US from Tehran that any US attack would lead to a broader Iranian military retaliation.
Trump is aware he needs to build a coalition of domestic and foreign political support for a strike on Iran, and that requires providing evidence that the attack was mounted, or coordinated by Iran, and not by Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The Houthis staged their own press conference in which army spokesman Brig Gen Yahya Serie tried to substantiate their claim of responsibility for the attack. He said the weapons that targeted Aramco were Qasif K-2 cruise missiles and Samad 3 drones possessing a range of 1,700km (1,050 miles), and were launched from three sites and timed to reach their targets from different angles simultaneously.
The destruction was far worse than the Saudi imagery showed, he said. Versions of these weapons were displayed by the Houthis at a small arms exhibition on 7 July, but their true capability is unknown.
Earlier, Iranian president described US claims that Tehran was involved in the attack on Saudi Arabian petroleum facilities as slanderous and simply part of Washington’s continuing campaign to isolate and put pressure on Iran.