by Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J S Davies
On Saturday, September 14th, two oil refineries and other oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia were hit and set ablaze by 18 drones and 7 cruise missiles, dramatically slashing Saudi Arabia's oil production by half, from about ten million to five million barrels per day. On September 18, the Trump administration, blaming Iran, announced it was imposing more sanctions on Iran and voices close to Donald Trump are calling for military action. But this attack should lead to just the opposite response: urgent calls for an immediate end to the war in Yemen and an end to US economic warfare against Iran.
The question of the origin of the attack is still under dispute. The Houthi government in Yemen immediately took responsibility. This is not the first time the Houthis have brought the conflict directly onto Saudi soil as they resist the constant Saudi bombardment of Yemen. Last year, Saudi officials said they had intercepted more than 100 missiles fired from Yemen.
This is, however, the most spectacular and sophisticated attack to date. The Houthis claim they got help from within Saudi Arabia itself, stating that this operation "came after an accurate intelligence operation and advance monitoring and cooperation of honorable and free men within the Kingdom."
This most likely refers to Shia Saudis in the Eastern Province, where the bulk of Saudi oil facilities are located. Shia Muslims, who make up an estimated 15-20 percent of the population in this Sunni-dominated country, have faced discrimination for decades and have a history of uprisings against the regime. So it is plausible that some members of the Shia community inside the kingdom may have provided intelligence or logistical support for the Houthi attack, or even helped Houthi forces to launch missiles or drones from inside Saudi Arabia.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, however, immediately blamed Iran, noting that that the air strikes hit the west and north-west sides of the oil facilities, not the the south side that faces toward Yemen. But Iran is not to the west or northwest either - it is to the northeast. In any case, which part of the facilities were hit does not necessarily have any bearing on which direction the missiles or drones were launched from. Iran strongly denies conducting the attack.
CNN reported that Saudi and US investigators claim "with very high probability" that the attack was launched from an Iranian base in Iran close to the border with Iraq, but that neither the U.S. nor Saudi Arabia has produced any evidence to support these claims.
But in the same report, CNN reported that missile fragments found at the scene appeared to be from Quds-1 missiles, an Iranian model that the Houthis unveiled in July under the slogan, "The Coming Period of Surprises," and which they may have used in a strike on Abha Airport in southern Saudi Arabia in June.
A Saudi Defence Ministry press briefing on Wednesday, September 18th, told the world's press that the wreckage of missiles based on Iranian designs proves Iranian involvement in the attack, and that the cruise missiles flew from the north, but the Saudis could not yet give details of where they were launched from.