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Messiness unleashed by the attack on Saudi oil

  • 16 September 2019


The Middle East is set for another murderous scrap, one boosted by the usual speculation, fear and rage that accompanies the next provocation. Saturday's attack on the world's largest oil processing facility at Abqaiq in Saudi Arabia, which was responsible for a daily output of some 5.7 million barrels, had its desired effect. There was talk about a constriction in the energy market. The commentariat on oil prices got into a tizz with a price rise of 20 per cent in Benchmark Brent crude.  

Speculators got busy, concerned that a critical point in the energy supply chain had been assaulted. 'Saturday's attack on a critical Saudi oil facility,' broods the Wall Street Journal, 'will almost certainly rock the world energy market in the short term, but it also carries disturbing long-term implications.' 

For one, it was audacious, executed by drones supposedly controlled by Iran-backed Houthi rebels based in Yemen. But Riyadh is also examining another possibility: that the attack was instigated by another group from Iraq using cruise missiles. What concerns the security fraternity is that, whichever group was responsible, a non-state actor has been involved in targeting vulnerable assets in the global energy chain.

Immediately, geopolitical presumptions were being made. Those responsible for the attack could not have been operating on their own volition. Some puppet mastery was involved. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to swallow Iranian denials regarding the attack, or accept Houthi claims. 

The forced departure of US national security advisor John Bolton, an individual not averse to retaliatory strikes on Iranian targets, had left matters uncertain. Optimists were hoping that the change would lead to a waiver of sanctions for some buyers of Iranian crude. Prospects of a discussion with Iran's President Hassan Rouhani later this month were also floated.

In all that fuss, it was conveniently forgotten that Pompeo remains a bellicose hawk of some determination. He might have been well on cue managing Trump's inconsistent scripts, but he remains a devotee of pre-emptive action and retaliation. In his view, there is only one state responsible for the attacks. 'We call on all nations to publicly and unequivocally condemn Iran's attacks. The United States will work with our partners and allies to ensure that energy markets remain well supplied and Iran is held accountable for its aggression.' 

In another tweet posted on Saturday, he accused Iran of being behind some 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia 'while Rouhani and [Iranian