The missile attack on Saudi Arabia’s Aramco facility in the east of the country on September 15 has become ensnared in a whodunit of confusion and speculation as accusations fly over who was really behind the rocket attack that has caused the biggest ever disruption to global oil production.
The United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed in no uncertain terms that the projectiles originated from Iranian bases, but offered no concrete proof.
The Saudi-led military coalition fighting in Yemen, which includes US forces, said the attack used Iranian weapons, but they were not launched from Iran.
“The preliminary results show that the weapons are Iranian and we are currently working to determine the location ... The terrorist attack did not originate from Yemen as the [Iranian-backed] Houthi militia [based in Yemen-claimed,” Malki told a press conference in Riyadh on September 16.
The Houthis have claimed they carried out the attack using domestically developed drones that flew across the Arabian peninsula and hit oil facilities near Al Khobar with impressive precision, but those claims are now being discounted across the spectrum by pundits and unnamed government officials in the region.
The Houthis themselves are outraged that nobody believes it was them and warned on September 16 that to prove it they will use their capability to take out another 5mn barrels of oil a day and would hit more targets in neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
While no one is sure where the attacks were launched from and who actually pushed the button, it remains fairly sure that the attacks were orchestrated by Iran-related elements.
But that is causing problems in Tehran and the brazen nature of the attack on its mortal enemy has got Tehran’s officials on their back foot. Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Abbas Mousavi said the report that the attacks on Saudi Aramco originated from Iran were part of Washington’s “Maximum Lies” campaign towards the Islamic Republic. “It has been around five years that the Saudi-led coalition has kept the flames of war alive in the region by repeatedly launching aggression against Yemen and committing different types of war crimes, and the Yemenis have also shown that they are standing up to war and aggression,” Mousavi said in a statement.
Mousavi went on to say that the accusations against Tehran are “blind and futile” within a diplomatic framework. “The Americans adopted the “maximum pressure” policy against Iran, which, due to its failure, is leaning towards “maximum lies”,” he added.
The attacks have unsettled the man on the street in Tehran as they have the international community. What worries many is the feeling that control of the situation is slipping away. Whether those that fired the rockets at Saudi Aramco miscalculated the response from the US is unknown, but with the US now publically blaming Tehran there are only a few directions this situation can develop in now. For the time being Tehran is denying any connection with the rocket attacks on the oil processing plants – and that position does not appear to be changing any time soon.
In the Tehran Grand Bazaar this week Amir, a trader in metals who asked not to use his second name, said that the situation appears to be spiralling out of control after a period of relative calm. Amir is worried as he doesn't believe Iran would launch such a brazen attack that will so obviously bring reprisals, not even from a Shi’ite militia bases in southern Iraq near Basra, which some reports have identified as the origin of the rockets.
“Honestly, are you telling me that Iran would be so brave to attack Saudi Arabia’s crown jewels?” he told the bne IntelliNews correspondent, going on to say: “Oil is their life blood, as is it is ours and it would not be in either of our interests that this situation worsen.”
Social media in Tehran is abuzz with reports and rumours of the attack as regular Iranians also scramble to work out what is going on. They make heavy use of the, now banned but uncrackable, Telegram channels where information and rumours are shared. The mood is tense as everyone realises that war could be close.
Other young people on the streets of Tehran today that talked to bne IntelliNews have a strong feeling of foreboding. A twentysomething on Tehran’s Enqelab Street who asked not to be named said: “I think Iran did it, and what worries me is what comes next.”
The head of the Iranian Judiciary Ebrahim Raisi is already playing on these fears and warned that Iran would seize foreign assets in the Persian Gulf if provoked, singling out Canadian vessels that are currently in the waters there, the hard-line Mashegh News Agency reported.
The Iranian military should, “seize all vessels carrying goods and products to or from Canada as soon as possible,” said Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, a national security council member, Radio Farda reported. “No country will be allowed to violate the rights of the Iranian nation under any circumstances,” Raisi asserted, Tasnim added.
The situation remains up in the air and Iranians are waiting to see what the response to the bombing of the Saudi’s biggest oil production facility will be, but they are sure there will be a response.