By Yuram Abdullah Weiler

Houthi retaliation on Saudi oil facilities checkmates Trump

September 18, 2019 - 14:46

“We promise the Saudi regime that our future operations will expand further and be more painful than ever as long as it continues its aggression and siege.” —Yemeni Armed Forces spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Sari'

In a highly coordinated retaliatory attack deep inside Saudi Arabia, Yemeni Armed Forces targeted Aramco oil refineries at Buqayq and Khurais on September 14, 2019.  Ten drones carried out the sophisticated operation, which has effectively reduced Saudi output by 50 percent and the global oil supply by 5 percent, raising the specter of $100 a barrel oil prices once again.  The Houthi strike came at a time when the oil giant was preparing for a public stock offering “as soon as possible” according to Saudi Energy Minister Abdulaziz bin Salman.

For his part, Mike Pompeo, the Trump regime’s diplomatic hitman, blamed Iran for the astonishingly well-executed operation, calling it “an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply.” Concurring and always ready to blame Iran for the results of failed U.S. policies, chicken hawk senator Lindsey Graham threatened, “It is now time for the U.S. to put on the table an attack on Iranian oil refineries if they continue their provocations or increase nuclear enrichment.” In response to these spurious accusations and threats, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote, “Having failed at ‘max pressure’ US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo turning to ‘max deceit’.”

The Saudis have blamed Iran for the attack on their country’s oil facilities out of embarrassment due to their inability to achieve their geopolitical goals despite U.S. backing. One must ask, how is it possible for the heavily-armed Saudis, awash in U.S. weaponry, appear weak and impotent in their military operations against the Houthi rebels? Why weren’t the sophisticated Saudi air defenses able to intercept the Houthi drones before reaching their targets? Ineptitude on the part of the Saudis is unacceptable, so Iran must be to blame. This is the mindset of the rulers in Riyadh, who are likely wondering if their Washington ally will come to their rescue.

In reality, Iran’s influence within Yemen is at best marginal, and certainly the Houthis are not aligned with the Islamic Republic in a manner such that they could be termed proxies. The main ignitor of the raging fire of conflict in Yemen is Saudi Arabia, whose de-facto leader, Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), made the misguided decision to invade the country in March 2015 to restore the exiled government of Abd Rabbu Mansour al-Hadi. While the western narrative accusing the Islamic Republic of aligning with the Shi’a Houthis strictly due to religious considerations simply does not hold up to a closer examination, Iran does, of course, cultivate ties with non-state actors who are in opposition to the U.S.-Israeli-Saudi regional hegemonic axis. For their part, the Houthis have the same goal as in the 1990s when the movement was born, and that is for increased autonomy, but not necessarily independence, from the central government.

Trump, being the draft-dodging, bellicose blowhard that he is, announced he is “locked and loaded” for a military operation, presumably against Iran, for which he is busy manufacturing consent. The argument being put forth is that the Houthi Ansar Allah forces lack the expertise to pull off the missile attack, which impacted 17 different points within the critical infrastructure of Aramco’s Abqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq. U.S. officials claim that, based on satellite imagery of the 19-odd impact points at both targets, the projectiles most likely originated in Iraq or Iran. Such an argument underscores the enduring colonial mindset of western officials, who readily accept as axiomatic that Ansar Allah is made up of backward, tribal people who could never carry out such a sophisticated attack. Nevertheless, some unnamed, but perhaps more enlightened, U.S. officials conceded that the trajectories could have originated in Yemen.

Regardless of the origin of the drone attack, its execution and timing display a brilliant sense of strategic thinking and planning, as well as a profound grasp of tactics.  Think about it for a moment: with comparatively low-tech weaponry at their disposal and at relatively modest cost, resistance fighters of Ansar Allah, or their backers as the case may be, were able to take a critical Aramco oil production facility off line and cut Saudi oil output by 50%, all in a military “op” that did not take a single human life. Global oil markets have surged in reaction to fears of shortages, if the imbroglio escalates, while the White House has announced its intention to release oil from the U.S. strategic petroleum reserves, an indication that U.S. political leaders fear a worldwide economic slowdown should crude prices take off. 

According to U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, “The global growth outlook has been deteriorating since the middle of last year.”  So given the sluggishness of the world’s economy, which, according to the International Monetary Fund, is being held back by “rising trade uncertainty,” any further escalation of tensions in the Persian Gulf may be sufficient to initiate a global recession. With the IMF World Trade Uncertainty Index already at levels exceeding previous records by an order of magnitude, the Washington warmongers must be fully aware that initiating any military action against Tehran would come with an extremely high economic cost. Trump himself has indicated his awareness of this reality by his remarks on Twitter that he is “waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack and under what terms we would proceed!”

And then there are the coming U.S. elections in November of 2020 and, of course politicians are already on the campaign trail stumping for re-election.  Trump is no different in this regard, having organized numerous campaign rallies in anticipation of his re-election. Currently engaged in a vigorous trade war with China, the current occupant of the Oval Office is desperately in need of some positive economic news to parade before American voters.  From this fact, we can conclude that starting a war with Iran, and its ugly economic consequences, is most likely not a viable option if Trump wants to be re-elected. This explains why, so far, the White House reaction to the Ansar Allah military strike has been vague and subdued.

But then the bellicose, anti-Iran rhetoric, which the former reality TV star and his B Team less Bolton has relentlessly regurgitated since his initial presidential campaign speeches, seems to resonate with a significant portion of his electoral base. Along with Pompeo and Bolton, Trump has been upping the rhetorical ante with Iran to the point where if he does not respond militarily to Ansar Allah’s successful retaliatory raid on Aramco’s oil processing facilities in Saudi Arabia, he will look decidedly weak and foolish. The director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, Barbara Slavin, noted that Trump has been “[r]ejected again and embarrassed by the escalation in the Persian Gulf his policies have incentivized,” and is likely to do more of the same.  Trump certainly appears to engage in behavior that Slavin previously dubbed “head-snapping schizophrenia” after his pontifical performance at the U.N. in September 2018.

In short, Trump has checkmated himself. He must do what he cannot afford to do militarily or economically, but if he does it, namely launch an attack on Iranian oil facilities, he will risk causing a global recession, which will negatively impact the U.S. economy and hence his chances for re-election.  Checkmate!


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