The Iranian Escalation

The most recent military strike on Saudi Arabian oil facilities over the weekend was an attack not only on the kindgom’s vital assets, but in effect constituted an attack on the economies of its western allies as well.

The phrase “most recent” is used here because there have been several other, less serious, attacks of this kind over the past two years. “This is unprecedented in scale, and impact,” Saudi sources were quoted saying in media reports.

This time, explosions set off fires that took several hours to extinguish. The resulting disruption of production was estimated at about 5 million barrels a day — nearly half the kingdom’s estimated output of 9.7 million barrels and 5 percent of global production. Two Saudi sources knowledgeable about the kingdom’s oil industry told CNN that restoring production to normal levels “will take weeks, not days.”

Immediately, the question arises: Who did it? Or rather, Who really did it?

Although Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility, they are backed and armed by Iran, and the evidence points to direct Iranian involvement. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was unhesitant about who is to blame. “Tehran is behind nearly 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia while Rouhani and Zarif pretend to engage in diplomacy,” Pompeo tweeted shortly after the incident. “Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply. There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen,” he said.

Subsequently, satellite imagery was released that indicates that the attack came from the northwest, the direction of Iran and Iraq, not Yemen, which lies to the south. Furthermore, an official told CNN that such a strike could not be carried out with 10 drones, which the Houthis said they used. “You can’t hit 19 targets with 10 drones like that,” the official said. ABC News on Monday cited experts who said the degree of weapons sophistication shown in the incident is beyond the capability of the Houthi rebels.

The denials from Tehran were typically laced with insults and overt threats to American security. “Having failed at ‘max pressure,’ Sec. Pompeo’s turning to ‘max deceit’,” Zarif wrote in a tweet. A senior Revolutionary Guards commander told Iranian semi-official news agencies that his country was ready for “full-fledged” war. “All American bases and their aircraft carriers in a distance of up to 2,000 kilometers around Iran are within the range of our missiles,” the Tasnim news agency quoted Commander Amirali Hajizadeh as saying.

As Saudi Arabia is an important U.S. ally, the response from Washington was appropriately stern. President Donald Trump said: “There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!”

From the president’s words, it would seem that the identity of the attackers is not yet definitely known, despite strong indications. Iran undoubtedly took pains to conceal its role in the attack, and incontrovertible evidence may never be available. Don’t expect to see photos of aircraft with Iranian markings.

There was ambiguity in the phrase “locked and loaded,” as well, which commentators took to suggest a military response, and global anxieties over war in the Persian Gulf shot up once again.

However, Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Pence, told reporters that the president did not mean the term in its usual military sense of readying a rifle for firing.

“I think that locked and loaded is a broad term and talks about the realities that we’re all far safer and more secure domestically from energy independence. This is not the 1970s oil embargo. It’s not 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait. We’re now a net oil exporter, which means that the American market is much better protected.”

So the situation is not as precarious as it might have sounded at first. As a precaution in case of a shortage, though, President Trump said he will authorize the release of oil from strategic reserves.

Still, the attack represents a grave escalation that cannot be ignored. Under crushing sanctions, Iran seems to be testing American resolve by attacking a close U.S. ally. On Monday, President Trump was reportedly conferring with senior security officials about what steps to take in the crisis. This is a time to daven that the administration is granted the wisdom to deal with the Iranian menace correctly.