How Iran openly attacked Saudi Arabia and got away with it
On Sept. 14, 2019, a swarm of drones and cruise missiles struck the world's largest oil processing facility inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There was little doubt in the Saudi's minds as to who the culprit could be. Their American allies agreed: the attack came from the Islamic Republic of Iran, their neighbor across the Persian Gulf. But the attack on the Saudi Aramco facility was less about making the Saudis pay and more about making their American allies pay.
The regime in Tehran was still pissed about the United States leaving the 2015 nuclear deal.
According to Reuters reporters, the Iranian regime wanted to punish the Americans for leaving the deal and reimposing crippling sanctions on the Iranian economy. These sanctions have caused widespread hardship and unrest inside Iranian borders. Just four months prior, the head honchos of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps met in Tehran to figure out a way to do just that. They even considered attacking American bases in the Middle East. Of course, they didn't go that far, but they had to do something.
One senior official took the floor to tell the room, "It is time to take out our swords and teach them a lesson."
The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, approved the operation on the condition that the IRGC didn't kill any civilians or Americans. With that nod from their leader, the Revolutionary Guards, experts in covert warfare and missile strikes, began planning.
Both the Saudi government and the Iranian government have refused to comment on the attack, with the exception of the Iranian Mission to the United Nations who vehemently denies any involvement, any planning, or any meeting taking place. American military and intelligence representatives also refused to comment. But the Houthis in Yemen, the Iranian-backed rebel group who has defied a Saudi-led invasion for years, claimed responsibility for the attacks. No one believed them because it was an attack intelligence agencies believed could only have come from Iran.
If it was supposed to be an attack on the Kingdom itself, it was a success. The September attack was just in time to disrupt projections for state-owned Aramco's coming IPO on the New York Stock Exchange. If the Iranians wanted the United States to stick up for its Middle Eastern ally, however, the timing was terrible. After the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, and the years of destruction causing a humanitarian crisis in Yemen, no one in Washington was quick to stick up for Riyadh.
For 17 minutes, swarms of drones and low-flying missiles hit the Khurais oil installation and the Abqaiq oil processing facility, cutting the Kingdom's oil production by half and knocking out five percent of the world's oil. Oil prices soared by 20 percent as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hit Iran with another round of sanctions. Everyone pointed fingers at everyone else, but the blame ultimately ended up in Iran's lap, despite its refusals. Iran remained steadfast and despite increased sanctions and threats against further violence, largely got away with it.
Iran believed President Trump would not risk an all-out war to protect Saudi oil companies, Reuters quoted Ali Vaez, director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group as saying. "Hard-liners [in Iran] have come to believe that Trump is a Twitter tiger," Vaez said. "As such there is little diplomatic or military cost associated with pushing back."
The insiders believe Iran is already planning its next attack.