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Saudi oil attacks: US says intelligence shows Iran involved


Saudi oil attacks: US says intelligence shows Iran involved

President Donald Trump said Washington was “locked and loaded” to hit back.

Damage shown on oil and gas infrastructure at Abqaiq in Saudi ArabiaImage copyrightUS GOVERNMENT / DIGITAL GLOBE
Image captionOne of the US government’s satellite images showing apparent damage at the world’s biggest oil-processing facility

The Houthis say they did it; the United States insists that it was Iran; the Iranians deny any involvement.

A predictable war of words has followed the dramatic attack on Saudi Arabia’s most important oil installations. The strikes have shown the remarkable vulnerability of oil facilities of central importance to the global economy.

The Saudis – whose air campaign in Yemen is backed by the Americans and whose warplanes are only kept in the sky by a variety of western contractors – have been conducting a long-running air campaign against the Houthi rebels. But their opponents have now demonstrated the ability to deliver a strategic riposte of their own.

The whole episode has inevitably revived the debate about the extent to which Iran is providing technology and assistance to the Houthis. Given the already highly charged atmosphere in the Gulf, it has served to ratchet up regional tensions.

The United States has issued satellite images and cited intelligence to back its allegation Iran was behind attacks on major Saudi oil facilities.

Iran denies involvement in Saturday’s air attacks, which were claimed by Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen.

But unnamed US officials speaking to US and international media say the direction and extent of the attacks cast doubt on Houthi involvement.

The incident has cut global oil supplies by 5% and prices have soared.

What is the US saying?

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran at the weekend, without providing any evidence, prompting Tehran to accuse Washington of deceit.

Tweeting on Sunday, President Donald Trump stopped short of directly accusing Iran, but suggested possible military action once the perpetrator was known.

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Unnamed US officials have been speaking to the New York Times, ABC and Reuters.

One official said there were 19 points of impact on the targets and the attacks had come from a west-north-west direction – not Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen, which lies to the south-west of the Saudi oil facilities.

Map showing targeted oil facilities

The officials said that could suggest launch sites in the northern Gulf, Iran or Iraq.

A close-up image of damaged tanks at the Abqaiq processing plant (included above) appeared to show impact points on the western side.

Other images seem to show damage at the Khurais oilfield, which is located further west.

This images appears to show damage at the Khurais oil fieldImage copyrightUS GOVERMENT / DIGITAL GLOBE

Iraq denied at the weekend that the attacks were launched from its territory. Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said Mr Pompeo had assured him in a phone call on Monday that the US backed Iraq’s position.

Officials quoted by the New York Times said a mix of drones and cruise missiles might have been deployed, but that not all had hit their targets at Abqaiq and Khurais.

ABC quoted a senior US official as saying Mr Trump was fully aware that Iran was responsible.

China and the European Union have, separately, urged restraint.

In the UK, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said it was not yet clear who was responsible for what he described as a “wanton violation of international law”.

What are the oil markets doing?

The oil price has seen the biggest one-day rise since the 1991 Gulf War, rising 20% but falling back later.

The international benchmark used by traders, Brent crude, jumped to $71.95 (£57.53) a barrel at one point.

Biggest oil output disruptions
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Prices eased after President Trump authorised the release of US reserves.

But there are concerns that higher prices could continue if tensions worsen further.

US Energy Secretary Rick Perry, blaming Iran, said on Monday the oil market was “resilient and will respond positively”.

How has Iran reacted?

Iran has yet to respond to the latest US assertions.

But Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted on Sunday to deride Mr Pompeo, saying that “having failed at max pressure, Sec Pompeo’s turning to max deceit”.

Media captionAbqaiq has the world’s largest oil processing plant

He was referring to the Trump administration’s stated “maximum pressure campaign” which has targeted Iran with sanctions since Washington pulled out of an international agreement to limit the scope of Iran’s nuclear programme.

How did Saturday’s attacks unfold?

The attacks targeted Abqaiq, the site of the world’s largest oil processing plant, run by the Saudi state oil company, Aramco, and the Khurais oilfield.

Khurais is the closest of the targets to the Yemen border – still a considerable 770km (480 miles) away.

Smoke billowing from the oil facility in Abqaiq, 14 September 2019Image copyrightREUTERS

Image captionSmoke billowing from the oil facility in AbqaiqSaudi Arabia said drones had carried out the attacks, which began at 04:00 (01:00 GMT) and sent huge clouds of thick, black smoke into the air.

The Houthi movement said its forces had sent 10 drones towards the facilities and have since warned of further attacks.

There were no reports of injuries, but the extent of the damage to the facilities is still not entirely clear.

Why might the Houthis have attacked Saudi Arabia?

The Houthis have repeatedly launched rockets, missiles and drones at populated areas in Saudi Arabia. The attacks have left at least four civilians dead.

The Yemen conflict escalated in March 2015, when the Houthis seized control of much of the west of the country and forced President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to flee abroad.

Alarmed by the rise of a group they believed to be backed militarily by regional Shia Muslim power Iran, Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni Muslim Arab states began an air campaign aimed at restoring Mr Hadi’s government.

The UN says the conflict has claimed the lives of at least 7,290 civilians and left 80% of the population – 24 million people – in need of humanitarian assistance or protection, including 10 million who rely on food aid to survive.


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