Ten Drones attack Saudi Oil Facilities
by Noah Kotlarek
Around 4 a.m. on September 14th, ten drones flew over Saudi Arabi sinking a total of nineteen missiles into Aramco oil processing facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais. Fourteen of the strikes destroyed storage tanks, three damaged processing trains, and the remaining two did not hit any infrastructure or equipment. Thankfully, no one died in the attacks; though the number of injured remains unknown. The attack halted half of Saudi Arabia’s daily oil production, representing five percent of global production. Saudi officials and business leaders expect production to return to baseline by the end of September and will tap into reserves to maintain current export levels.
The aggressor of these attacks is currently being debated. The Houthi rebels of Yemen were quick to claim the attacks for themselves. The Houthis, belonging to the Zaidi Shi’ite branch of Islam, have had an ongoing animosity with both Saudi Arabia and the United States of America. Since 2015 a Civil War has been raging between the Houthis and the Yemeni government led by President Adbrabbuh Mansur Hadi. The Houthis claim to be fighting against the government in defense of the Zaidi population (1/3 of the total population), against corruption in the political system, and against a reduction in subsidies that the Zaidis depend upon. On a religious level, the Houthis are opposed to Salafism, a Sunni reform movement that references the early years of Islam for guidance in the practice of the faith. The Yemeni government, on the other hand, claims the Houthis simply want to overthrow the republican system. So why would the Houthi’s attack Saudi Arabia? Saudi Arabia, with intelligence and logistical help from the United States, has led pro-government interventions in Yemen. These interventions include bombings, naval blockades, and the deployment of foot soldiers. For this, and for the presence of Salafism in Saudi Arabia, the Houthis resent the Saudis.
Yet, both Saudi Arabia and the United States deny that the Houthis are the ones behind the attack. The Saudi government and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo point to Iran as the aggressor. Satellite imagery suggests that the drones are of Iranian manufacture. Within Iran’s accusers, there are two main camps; those who believe the drones flew directly from Iranian soil and those who think the supposed Iranian drones were launched from Yemen with assistance from Iran. Iran’s tensions with the United States and Saudi Arabia escalated recently with the termination of the Iran Nuclear Deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). The Trump Administration has responded by imposing further sanctions on Iran. The French foreign minister, who earlier this week was unwillingly to accept Iran as the aggressor, now says the Houthi claim lacks credibility. Regardless, at the next UN General Assembly France will attempt to diffuse the situation between the United States and Iran and ultimately reinstate a nuclear deal. French President Emmanuel Macron is set to meet with Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the coming weeks.
Clearly, the implications of these attacks are not isolated to the two Arabian facilities. Nor are they limited diplomats and global superpowers. The temporary destruction of half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production affects the wealthy and the poor across the world. On the day of the attacks, oil prices jumped 20%, the highest single day surge since the Invasion of Kuwait in 1990. A dire future was expected… Heightened prices would cost citizens more to refuel their cars as well as raise the cost of producing (and thus buying) a plethora of petroleum products consumed by people on each side of the economic spectrum. But to Aramco’s surprise, assessments revealed less damage than expected. The state-owned processing company was able to resume production at 2 million barrels per day on September 16th and predicts full operations to resume in less than a month.
Though production will return to normalcy, international relations will not. On Friday, the Pentagon President announced the deployment of a “moderate” amount of additional American troops to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as well as technicians and air and missile defense equipment. After this announcement the media made it seem as this was a huge measure but according to Frank Gardner, the BBC’s chief Security Correspondent, the move is not so invasive or aggressive. Iranian Commander Major General Hossein Salami responded to the U.S.’s claims that the deployment was not so large, “Whoever wants their land to become the main battlefield, go ahead. Be careful, a limited aggression will not remain limited. We will pursue any aggressor.” These resources were requested by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to deter Iran from attacking. Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, calls the United States’ actions “posturing” and maintains that the attack was not carried out by his country. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calls the attack an “Act of War.” But in keeping with his claims that Iran did not in fact strike the Arabian facilities Zarif warned the United States, “I’m confident that we will not start one (a war), but I’m confident that whoever starts one will not be the one who finishes it.”
Iranian President Hassan Rohani urges foreign powers not to deploy troops as that would be an “arms race.” Iran intends to propose a Gulf peace initiative at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. Houthi rebels also have expressed to the United Nations that they would cease attacks on Saudi Arabi so long as Saudi Arabia and the United States ceased Yemeni intervention.
Until now we will just have to wait and see what comes out of the General Assembly meeting and who the majority of foreign powers will blame for the attacks. These complicated foreign affairs knotted by the ropes of religion, oil, territorial control, and money never have a simple solution. As Fordham students and human beings sharing a planet it is our responsibility to make ourselves aware of the worldly happenings so we can better understand one another and work towards harmony amongst our colleagues and fellow strangers.