The devastating blitz on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry has led to a flurry of accusations from US officials blaming Iran. The reason for the finger-pointing is simple: Washington’s spectacular failure to protect its Saudi ally.
Saudi Arabia has spent billions of dollars in recent years purchasing US Patriot missile defense systems and supposedly cutting-edge radar technology from the Pentagon. If the Yemeni rebels can fly combat drones up to 1,000 kilometers into Saudi territory and knock out the linchpin production sites in the kingdom’s oil industry, then that should be a matter of huge embarrassment for US “protectors.”
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Saudi Arabia has the world’s third biggest military budget, behind the US and China. With an annual spend of around $68 billion, it is the world’s number one in terms of percentage of gross domestic product (8.8 per cent). Most of the Saudi arms are sourced from the US, with Patriot missile systems in particular being a recent big-ticket item.
Yet for all that financial largesse and the finest American military technology, the oil kingdom just witnessed a potentially crippling wave of air assaults on its vital oil industry. Saudi oil production at its mammoth refinery complex at Abqaiq, 205 miles (330 kms) east of the capital Riyadh, was down 50 per cent after it was engulfed by flames following air strikes. One of the Saudi’s biggest oilfields, at Khurais, also in the Eastern Province, was also partially closed.
There are credible reports that the damage is much more serious than the Saudi officials are conceding. These key industrial sites may take weeks to repair.
In a hurried effort to substantiate accusations against Iran, satellite images were released which show what appears to be the aftermath of the air strike on the Abqaiq refinery complex. US officials claim the location of the explosions indicate the weapons originated not from Yemen to the south, but from either Iran or Iraq.
Even the normally dutiful New York Times expressed doubt about that claim, commenting in its report: “The satellite photographs released on Sunday did not appear as clear cut as officials suggested, with some appearing to show damage on the western side of facilities, not from the direction of Iran or Iraq.”
Meanwhile, Russia on Monday urged countries in the Middle East and outside the region not to draw “hasty conclusions” on who staged the attacks on Saudi oil facilities.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, asked about the US statement, said: “We have a negative attitude towards rising tensions in the region and call for all countries in the region and outside of it to avoid any hasty steps or conclusions which may deepen destabilisation.”
In a separate statement on Monday, Russia’s foreign ministry said it believed that the exchange of strikes on civilian targets was “a direct consequence of the ongoing sharp military and political crisis in Yemen.”
“We believe it is counterproductive to use what happened to increase tensions around Iran in line with the well-known US policy,” the foreign ministry said.
“Proposals on tough retaliatory actions, which appear to have been discussed in Washington are even more unacceptable.”
Beijing has warned that it would be irresponsible to guess who is the culprit behind the attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities without conducting a proper investigation. The US had immediately blamed Iran for the operation.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying urged against jumping to conclusions over the attack, which hit the world’s biggest oil-processing facility, stressing that a needless escalation in the region should be avoided.
“Pondering who is to blame in the absence of a conclusive investigation, I think, is in itself not very responsible. China’s position is that we oppose any moves that expand or intensify conflict,” Hua said on Monday during a press briefing.