A Credibility Test for U.S.-Saudi Defense Relations and Iran Deterrence

(Washington Institute for Near East Policy) Michael Knights - The Sep. 14 attack on Saudi targets in Abqaiq and Khurais could take up to 5.7 million barrels per day off the global market for the next several months. This makes it the most comprehensive blow against the global energy sector since Iraq's seizure of Kuwait in 1990. The lack of attempted air defense interception by numerous overlapping Hawk and Patriot missile batteries suggests a low-level cruise missile attack that hugged the ground at altitudes of under 300 feet. Seventeen individual impact points were struck at the Abqaiq facility. The weapons were highly accurate. All 12 of the 30-meter-wide spheroid gas-oil separation tanks at Abqaiq were hit almost dead center. Much thinner stabilization towers were also accurately struck. The tanks appear to have been struck with high-velocity kinetic force sans explosions, perhaps signaling an effort to damage but not permanently destroy them. Assuming that indications of a major cruise missile attack launched from Iranian territory prove correct, the strike is a very bold gamble by the country's leadership. Iran can count on public skepticism to afford it some deniability, but an attack of this magnitude stands a much greater chance of provoking very severe diplomatic and military consequences. If significant portions of the intelligence community conclude that the world's most important energy site has been hit by unprecedentedly advanced weapons launched directly from Iran or by the regime's proxies, the finding would challenge not only Riyadh and Washington, but the entire global energy community, including China. Iran has deliberately gone much further than its previous provocations, and if it avoids consequences once again, it may decide it has a free pass to go even further, whether against Saudi Arabia, Israel, or other U.S. partners. And other known global provocateurs will be watching how Washington responds, including Russia, China, and North Korea. For the sake of reestablishing deterrence, the attack must not go unanswered. The writer is a senior fellow of The Washington Institute.

2019-09-17 00:00:00

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