Claims that Iran carried out Saudi strike do not stack up

Yemen’s Houthi rebels have the motive and necessary skills to strike Aramco oil facilities

Shows smoke billowing from an Aramco oil facility in Abqaiq, about 60km southwest of Dhahran in Saudi Arabia, at the weekend. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Shows smoke billowing from an Aramco oil facility in Abqaiq, about 60km southwest of Dhahran in Saudi Arabia, at the weekend. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

 

Tehran has vehemently denied Washington’s accusation that Iran is to blame for drone and missile strikes on Saudi Aramco’s key oil facilities, cutting global oil supplies by five per cent. Since neither side has international credibility, it is difficult to affix blame, even though Yemen’s Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility.

If found to have launched the operation, Iran would face retaliation against its oil installations, risking all-out war. The timing is not right. US president Donald Trump has proposed a meeting with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and spoken of reducing sanctions. Tensions have eased. Trump fired hawkish anti-Iran adviser John Bolton, and France has offered $15 billion to mitigate against sanctions.

US officials have cited satellite images showing the attack was launched from the either Iraq or Iran but US secretary of state Mike Pompeo dropped the charge against Iraq. The New York Times reported satellite photographs released by the US on Sunday did not “appear as clear cut as officials suggested, with some appearing to show damage on the western [Yemen] side of the facilities, not from the direction of Iran or Iraq”.

Washington has promised to release more classified information, but the longer the wait the greater the suspicion it could be doctored, as was intelligence justifying the 2003 US war on Iraq.

Contradiction

Although US officials claim the Houthis do not have the expertise to mount a sophisticated attack, a study by the counterterrorism centre at the US military academy at West Point contradicts this contention. The study traces the metamorphosis of the Houthis from a tribal guerrilla force to become the “most powerful military entity in [their] country”, capable of using the latest weaponry.

The study credits Iran and Lebanon’s Hizbullah for providing training, but says the Houthis make their own decisions. Since early this year, they have staged dozens of drone and missile strikes on Saudi targets. While most have been intercepted, military bases, an oil pumping station and civilian airports have been struck.

The Houthis have practical political reasons to hit the Saudis. They are determined to punish Saudi Arabia, a traditional foe, for prosecuting a war that prevented them from taking control of all Yemen during 2015. The Emiratis, who partnered Riyadh in the stalemated conflict, are pulling out. The Houthis want the Saudis to follow suit.

The Houthis do not have time to waste: 100,000 Yemenis have been killed and 2.3 million displaced. The country has been devastated; criminal gangs, secessionists and jihadis compete for power and territory.

For the Houthis, the timing is significant. Coming before the UN General Assembly session, the attacks put pressure on world leaders to halt the Yemen war by urging Riyadh to call a ceasefire. The strikes have shown that the company’s oil facilities and world supplies are vulnerable to attack, while Riyadh has been touting the repeatedly postponed launch of Aramco shares.

Earnings from sales are meant to be invested in the kingdom’s economic reform and development plan, Vision 2030. Fresh strikes could scupper this plan.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.