2019 Abqaiq Drone Attack: A Reflection of U.S. Iran Tensions
On September 14th, drones bombed seventeen critical points of the Abqaiq oil facility, located in Saudi Arabia. According to Saudi Arabia’s ministry of energy, the attacks had taken away over 50% of all Saudi oil output. Immediately after the attack, Yemeni Houthi rebels claimed to have attacked the facilities via ten drones targeting ten locations. However, there were seventeen points of bombing, so Saudi Arabia and its allies blamed Iran instead.
The main condemnation of Iran came from the United States. Secretary of State Pompeo issued a statement on twitter following the attacks saying that: "We call on all nations to publicly and unequivocally condemn Iran's attacks". Besides the verbal naming and shaming campaign by the U.S., Iran has also been targeted by the rest of the global community.
Germany seemed to implicitly back its U.S. ally by looking into non Houthi sources for the bombing. China and Russia agreed that further investigation into the bombing was merited, and warned against any sudden action by Saudi Arabia, Iran, or the U.S. The U.S. was included in China and Russia’s warning of conflict because of both U.S. Iran tensions with Iran following the cancellation of the nuclear deal, and also Trump’s tweet that said the U.S. was “locked and loaded” to deter further Iranian violence following the suspected attack on Saudi oil facilities.
The motivation for such a U.S. defense of Saudi Arabia goes further than its anti-Iran policy. The U.S. does not want Saudi Arabian insecurity because Saudi Arabia is using U.S. weapons technology. Since the latter half of the 1900’s the U.S. has sold Saudi Arabia over 150 million USD worth of military technology. This spending includes technology to prop up Saudi Arabia’s defense of its airspace. For instance, the U.S. sold Saudi Arabia its Patriot air defense weaponry.
The attacks on the Abqaiq oil facility undermine the U.S. investment in Saudi Arabia’s air defense network. The shortcomings in defense are not directly the U.S. fault. Saudi Arabia’s military instillations are not within close proximity of its oil manufacturing, which makes it difficult to defend the facilities on short notice. Moreover, Saudi Arabia, has the financial backing for its military, but lacks the capability to use the advanced U.S. weaponry.
Despite Saudi’s embarrassment of the inability for U.S. weapons technology to protect its oil fields, President Trump has committed to continued military support for Saudi Arabia following the attacks. This is in large part because building up Saudi Arabia in the Middle East hits back against Iran, and is part of the larger U.S. tensions with Iran following the U.S. departure from the Iran Nuclear Deal in May of 2018.
Since U.S. withdrawal from the deal, Iran has surpassed its amount of enriched uranium that was allowed under the deal. Furthermore, Iran has taken direct military action against the U.S. In may of 2019, Iran shot down a U.S. drone that was flying through its airspace. In turn, U.S. sanctions on Iran enflamed its economy. In a 2019 IMF report, Iran’s economy is expected to contract by 9.5 percent; and U.S. sanctions are not helping Iran move out of this recession. Moreover, President Trump, in September of 2019, suggested mobilizing a few hundred U.S. troops into Saudi Arabia to deter future attacks by Iran to Saudi oil production facilities.
The U.S. blaming of Iran for the drone strikes seems to be part of a larger narrative against Iran as escalations continue following the attack. Furthermore, the U.S. looks to mobilize international support for its anti- Iran agenda via releasing intelligence to the UN that will confirm Iranian involvement in the drone attacks. Looking further, the U.S. seems to be using Saudi Arabia as a proxy rather than directly intervening in Iran. The U.S. proxy behavior is likely to continue with the Saudi crown prince is pursuing a 2030 vision of modernizing Saudi’s defense network.
Without the capability to mobilize the U.S. advanced weaponry in instanced like the drone attacks, Saudi Arabia is likely to continue to rely on U.S. support going into the future. In sum, unless Trump and Rouhani can negotiate a new Iran nuclear deal and alleviate U.S. sanctions; the U.S. will continue to militarize Saudi Arabia and blame Iran for instability in the region.