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Iran Denies Carrying Out Crippling Attacks on Saudi Oil Facilities
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=51624"><span class="small">Kareem Fahim, Erin Cunningham and Steven Mufson, The Washington Post</span></a>   
Sunday, 15 September 2019 13:08

Excerpt: "Iran on Sunday rejected U.S. accusations it was responsible for devastating attacks on two oil installations in Saudi Arabia that struck at the heart of the kingdom's oil industry and forced Aramco, the state oil company, to suspend its production output by half."

Smoke is seen following a fire at an Aramco factory in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, September 14, 2019. (photo: Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters)
Smoke is seen following a fire at an Aramco factory in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, September 14, 2019. (photo: Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters)


Iran Denies Carrying Out Crippling Attacks on Saudi Oil Facilities

By Kareem Fahim, Erin Cunningham and Steven Mufson, The Washington Post

15 September 19

 

ran on Sunday rejected U.S. accusations it was responsible for the devastating attacks on two oil installations in Saudi Arabia that forced the state oil company to suspend its production output by half and sparked fears of escalating hostilities across the Persian Gulf.

The Houthis, a rebel group in Yemen allied with Iran, had claimed responsibility for the attacks Saturday, saying it had sent a fleet of drones toward the Aramco facilities in eastern Saudi Arabia. Within hours later, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran directly for what he called “an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply.”

There was “no evidence the attacks came from Yemen,” Pompeo said in a tweet. His comments, along with a U.S. government damage assessment of one of the stricken oil facilities that suggested the attack might not have come from Yemen, fed speculation that the strikes had been launched from Iran, or by Tehran’s allies in neighboring Iraq.

Saudi Arabia, which said on Saturday it was still probing the source of the attack, remained silent on Sunday about the possible culprit. Media outlets in Kuwait, which sits between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, reported Sunday that officials were investigating a drone sighting over the country, deepening the mystery.

The possibility that Iran had played a direct role in an attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure unnerved a region already reeling from multiple conflicts: a war in Yemen, a feud between Qatar and its neighbors and a confrontation between the United States and Iran.

The Trump administration has made isolating Iran a centerpiece of its foreign policy. The administration withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal Tehran struck with world powers and imposed economic sanctions and an embargo on oil exports.

The United States blamed Iran for a spate of mysterious attacks on commercial tankers in the Persian Gulf region; In June, Iranian forces shot down a U.S. Navy spy drone. The incident nearly prompted a U.S. counterstrike — an operation President Trump said he called off at the last minute.

A senior Kuwaiti diplomat said his government was “extremely concerned” about the region’s stability in the wake of the attack. The diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, did not say whether Kuwait believed Iran was directly involved.

The attack on Aramco “aimed to disrupt oil markets worldwide and to undermine regional stability,” he said. “It’s a very dangerous period in the gulf region.”

Officials in Iran and Iraq pushed back forcefully against allegations the attacks had come from their territories.

“Having failed at ‘max pressure,’” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted, Pompeo was now “turning to ‘max deceit.’”

Iraq’s prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, denied the strikes had been launched from his country. He said his government would “deal firmly” with anyone trying to attack neighboring countries from Iraq.

Houthi spokesman Mohammed Albukhaiti reiterated the group’s claim that it had carried out the strikes. “We confirm that the Yemeni forces are the ones who hit the oil fields, and everyone knows our credibility, in every attack we announce,” he said in a telephone interview.

“We don’t need to provide evidence,” he added, and pointed out that Pompeo had not provided any proof that strikes had come from Iran or Iraq.

Israeli officials said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not expected to comment on the Saudi strikes or Pompeo’s assertion of Iran’s role. But many within Israel’s security community were ready to see Teheran’s fingerprints on the sophisticated attack.

“They are trying to prove what they have said in the past,” said Amos Yadlin, a former chief of Israeli military intelligence. “That if they are not going to export oil, no one will export oil.”

Netanyahu, who is days away from a too-close-to-call election, has based his campaign largely on warnings of Iran’s destabilizing machinations in the region. Israel is widely assumed to have been behind recent strikes on Iranian-backed militia targets in Iraq and Lebanon, and Netanyahu this month displayed intelligence images of what he said were previously undisclosed Iranian nuclear weapons facilities.

Bernard Hudson, a former director for counterterrorism for the CIA, said the attacks likely involved a mixture of drones and cruise missiles.

“It used to be that only governments had air forces, but drones have democratized violence from the sky,” said Hudson, now a fellow on Gulf Security issues at Harvard University. “The Houthis, with help and advice from Iran, have perfected it to a level no one else has done.”

Hudson, an investor in drones, called the industry “immature.”

“But the counter-drone industry is exceptionally immature.” For military personnel, he said, the biggest problem is “detection at a distance. ... If you don’t detect it until it’s on top of you, you have very little time to respond.”

The blasts Saturday struck facilities in the districts of Khurais and Abqaiq, Saudi officials said.

Khurais, the site of one of Saudi Arabia’s largest oil fields, is believed to produce about 1.5 million barrels per day. The kingdom’s largest oil processing facility is in Abqaiq, built to process about 7 million barrels a day of oil to be shipped out of the Persian Gulf to foreign markets.

Saudi Arabia produced 9.85 million barrels of oil a day in August, or about 10 percent of the global supply.

Aramco said Saturday that the attack by “projectiles” had forced it to suspend production of 5.7 million barrels of crude per day, or more than half of the kingdom’s output.

An assessment by the U.S. government found that 15 structures at Abqaiq were damaged on the west-northwest-facing sides — not the southern facades, as would be expected if the attack had come from Yemen.

Oil industry analysts were still trying to assess the extent of the damage. Aramco initially said it would be ready to supply all its customers on Monday, but by Sunday it was clear that would not be possible.

“In the short term Saudi Arabia will be able to maintain exports and use reserves to ensure supply security,” the information analysis firm S&P Global said. But “any evidence of prolonged disruption of production would heavily impact [OPEC’s] spare capacity and the ability of International Energy Agency to use Strategic Petroleum Reserves to shore up the market.”

The firm said “higher oil prices would add to the headwinds facing the global economy” and “could tip it into recession which would itself limit any prolonged period of excessively high oil prices as demand rebalances the market.”

The Energy Department has offered to release supplies from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which can pump as much as 2.12 million barrels a day of crude to global markets, at least theoretically. But S&P Global noted that as much as 1.74 million barrels a day of addition marine distribution capacity would likely be needed in the event of an Abqaiq attack, according to a 2016 DOE report.

Customers would also have to align location and quality of oil, an important factor in lining up crude with refineries capable of using it. As of Friday, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve held 644.8 million barrels of crude in four sites in Texas and Louisiana, according to the Energy Department.

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Last Updated on Sunday, 15 September 2019 14:24