On September 14, Saudi Arabia’s Aramco oil fields were attacked by drones and cruise missiles, and approximately half of the Saudi oil capacity was “disrupted.” The details are in dispute but Yemen’s Houthi rebels took credit for the attack that appeared to originate across the Persian Gulf — either in Kuwait, Iraq, or Iran.
These attacks have three consequences. First, they illustrate that we have entered into a new phase of terrorist activity. Second, they put an end to Trump’s recent attempts to forge a new “deal” with Iran. And third, they remind us — once again — that Trump, and his family are beholden to the (effective) Saudi leader, Mohammed bin Salman — referred to as MBS.
The terrorist attacks were carried out using sophisticated drones and cruise missiles. The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/16/saudi-arabia-oil-attacks-everything-you-need-to-know) stated: “The Houthis recently acquired much more powerful drone technology that has given them the power to strike targets up to 1,500km (~1000 miles). [An Aramco oilfield] is within about 1,000km of Houthi-held territory.” (It’s widely reported that Iran helped the Houthi rebels master this more sophisticated technology.) CNN (https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/19/middleeast/saudi-air-defense-analysis-intl/index.html ) observed: “Saudi Arabia has spent billions on state-of-the-art air defense and early warning systems, but a mix of cruise missiles and drones was able to penetrate its airspace…That suggests serious shortcomings in where Saudi systems are placed and what they’re designed to do.”
The success of the attacks on the attacks on the Saudi oilfields should be a wakeup call for Americans. The use of sophisticated drones and cruise missiles to attack critical infrastructure suggests that most U.S. assets are now vulnerable. For example, California is roughly 350 miles wide — west to east. Thus, all California oil resources would be vulnerable to an attack launched at sea — as would the state’s lone nuclear facility at Diablo Canyon.
The terrorist attacks came during a period where Trump seemed to be reversing his stance on Iran. After cancelling U.S. participation in the Iran nuclear agreement — the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” or JPA — Trump had taken a hard line with Iran. However, recently Trump appeared to be softening his stance, indicating that at the September 24th United Nations General Assembly, he might be willing to meet with Iran President Rouhani with no preconditions for the talks. (This reversal was one of the reasons that Trump parted ways with his national security adviser, John Bolton.) However, immediately after the Aramco attacks, Trump blamed Iran and appeared to, once again, be taking a hard line.
On September 18, Trump’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo described the Aramco attacks as an “act of war” orchestrated by Iran (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/18/world/middleeast/us-iran-saudi-arabia.html) Pompeo said the U.S. intends to build a “coalition to deter further attacks.” Trump ordered further economic sanctions against Iran and muttered about military action — although he’s backed down in the last couple of days.
It should be noted that the world community does not hold Iran responsible for the Saudi oilfield attacks. On September 18th, Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono remarked, “We are not aware of any information that points to Iran. We believe the Houthis carried out the attack based on the statement claiming responsibility.” (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-aramco-attacks-japan/japan-defense-minister-not-aware-of-any-iran-involvement-in-saudi-attacks-idUSKBN1W30KV )
Trump has no coherent Iran policy and has lost the support of our allies. According to the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/17/world/middleeast/iran-saudi-arabia-oil-attack.html ), an Iran expert observed: “Iranian hard-liners consider Trump’s inconsistency to be weakness… [They believe] their policy of ‘maximum resistance’ is working.”
Trump has extensive financial ties to Saudi Arabia. During the 2015 presidential campaign, Trump boasted: “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me… Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much… They buy all sorts of my stuff. All kinds of toys from Trump. They pay me millions and hundred of millions.”(https://www.cnbc.com/2018/10/16/trump-says-no-financial-interests-in-saudi-arabia-but-makes-money.html ) There’s also evidence that Trump’ son-in-law, Jared Kushner has ties to the Saudis. (https://www.npr.org/2018/10/16/657923244/jared-kushner-faces-scrutiny-for-his-ties-to-the-saudi-crown-prince ). Recently the Saudi’s have been frequent visitors at Trump hotels. According to Jonathan Chait, writing in New York Magazine (http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/09/trumps-saudi-arabia-iran-oil-war-corruption.html): “The Saudis spend extravagant sums of money at his hotels in Washington and New York. Earlier this summer, a Saudi entourage of more than two dozen stayed at Trump’s resort in Scotland.”
At the moment, Trump’s strongest ally in the Middle East is Mohammed bin Salman — who is a thug, (Readers will remember that most observers blame MBS for the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/09/19/after-oil-field-attacks-saudi-arabias-mohammed-bin-salman-straddles-line-between-victim-villain/ ).) If MBS decides to attack Iran, then Trump will probably go along. Such a war would have catastrophic consequences. It would involve the entire region. And the United States.
Most of us have grave concerns about Donald Trump’s ability to lead the United States. We worry that, in a time of national crisis, he would be woefully inadequate. The Saudi oilfield attacks are a wakeup call. If terrorists can successfully attack the Aramco oil fields — penetrating Saudi Arabian and U.S. defenses — why do we think terrorists would spare domestic oil fields or other critical U.S. targets?