Monday, September 16, 2019

Iran: Republic ready for 'full-fledged war' - AP Israel Hayom Staff


by AP Israel Hayom Staff

Iran dismisses allegation it was behind operation that saw Houthi rebels launch drone attacks on world's largest oil processing facility, sparking huge fires and halting about half of the supplies from world's largest oil exporter. US Secretary of State Pompeo: "No evidence the attacks came from Yemen."


Iran: Republic ready for 'full-fledged war'

A satellite image shows thick black smoke rising from Saudi Aramco's Abqaiq oil processing facility following a Houthi drone strike | Photo: Planet Labs Inc via AP



Iran denied on Sunday it was involved in Yemen rebel drone attacks the previous day targeting the world's biggest oil processing facility and an oil field in Saudi Arabia, just hours after America's top diplomat alleged that Tehran was behind the "unprecedented attack on the world's energy supply."

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi, speaking on state TV, dismissed the US allegation as "pointless". A senior Revolutionary Guards commander warned that the Islamic Republic was ready for "full-fledged" war.

The attacks Saturday claimed by Yemen's Houthi rebels resulted in "the temporary suspension of production operations" at the Abqaiq processing facility and the Khurais oil field, Riyadh said.

That led to the interruption of an estimated 5.7 million barrels in crude supplies, authorities said while pledging the kingdom's stockpiles would make up the difference.

While markets remain closed Sunday, the attack could shock world energy prices. They also increased overall tensions in the region amid an escalating crisis between the US and Iran over Tehran's unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.

Late Saturday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo directly blamed Iran for the attack on Twitter, without offering evidence to support his claim. The US, Western nations, their Gulf Arab allies and UN experts say Iran supplies the Houthis with weapons and drones – a charge that Tehran denies.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi dismissed Pompeo's remarks as "blind and futile comments."

"The Americans adopted the 'maximum pressure' policy against Iran, which, due to its failure, is leaning towards 'maximum lies,'" Mousavi said in a statement.

The attacks were the latest of many drone assaults on the kingdom's oil infrastructure in recent weeks, but easily the most damaging, resulting in "the temporary suspension of production operations," Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said in a statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency. The fires "were controlled," the statement said, and no workers were injured.

The Iranian-backed Houthis, who hold Yemen's capital, Sanaa, and other territories in the Arab world's poorest country, took responsibility for the attacks in the war against a Saudi-led coalition that it has fought since 2015 to reinstate the internationally recognized Yemeni government. But the US blamed Iran, as stated, with Pompeo tweeting: "There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen."

"Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world's energy supply," Pompeo said.

In a statement, the White House said, "The United States strongly condemns today's attack on critical energy infrastructure."

In a short address aired by the Houthi's al-Masirah satellite news channel, military spokesman Yahia Sarie said the rebels launched 10 drones after receiving "intelligence" support from those inside the kingdom. He warned that attacks by the rebels would only get worse if the war continues.

"The only option for the Saudi government is to stop attacking us," Sarie said.

Houthi rebels have been using drones in combat since the start of the Saudi-led war. The first appeared to be off-the-shelf, hobby-kit-style drones. Later, versions nearly identical to Iranian models turned up. Iran denies supplying the Houthis with weapons, although the UN, the West, and Gulf Arab nations say that Tehran does.

UN investigators said the Houthis' new UAV-X drone likely has a range of up to 1,500 kilometers (930 miles). That puts the far reaches of both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in range.

The first word of Saturday's assault came in online videos of giant fires at the Abqaiq facility, some 330 kilometers (210 miles) northeast of the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Machine gun fire could be heard in several clips alongside the day's first Muslim call to prayers, suggesting that security forces tried to bring down the drones just before dawn. In daylight, Saudi state television aired a segment with its local correspondent near a police checkpoint, a thick plume of smoke visible behind him.

US deputy press secretary Judd Deere said the attacks by the Iranian-backed Houthis "only deepen conflict and mistrust." He added that the US government is "committed to ensuring global oil markets are stable and well supplied."

US President Donald Trump called Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to offer his support for the kingdom's defense, the White House said. The crown prince assured Trump that Saudi Arabia is "willing and able to confront and deal with this terrorist aggression," according to a news release from the Saudi Embassy in Washington.

The UN special envoy for Yemen said he was "extremely concerned" by the attacks.

The United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths urged all parties to "prevent such further incidents, which pose a serious threat to regional security" and complicate the already fragile situation.

Saudi Aramco describes its Abqaiq oil processing facility in Buqayq as "the largest crude oil stabilization plant in the world."

The facility processes sour crude oil into sweet crude, then transports it onto transshipment points on the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea or to refineries for local production. Estimates suggest it can process up to 7 million barrels of crude oil a day. By comparison, Saudi Arabia produced 9.65 million barrels of crude oil a day in July.

"This is one of the biggest central processing facilities in the world. The Iran conflict is going to be hitting the world in a new way," said Kevin Book, managing director, research at ClearView Energy Partners LLC.

The Khurais oil field is believed to produce over 1 million barrels of crude oil a day. It has estimated reserves of over 20 billion barrels of oil, according to Aramco.

The US Energy Department said the US "stands ready to deploy resources from the Strategic Petroleum Oil Reserves if necessary to offset any disruptions to oil markets" in the wake of the drone attack.

In a statement on Saturday night, US Energy Secretary Rick Perry directed department leadership to work with the International Energy Agency on available options for collective global action if needed. Nations of the 30-member IEA seek to respond to disruptions in the oil supply and advocate for energy policy.

The US strategic oil reserves holds 630 million barrels.

There was no immediate impact on global oil prices as markets were closed for the weekend. Benchmark Brent crude had been trading at just above $60 a barrel.

While Saudi Arabia has taken steps to protect itself and its oil infrastructure, analysts had warned that Abqaiq remained vulnerable. The Rapidan Energy Group, a Washington-based advisory group, warned in May that "a successful attack could lead to a monthslong disruption of most Saudi production and nearly all spare production." It called Abqaiq, close to the eastern Saudi city of Dammam, "the most important oil facility in the world."

In a report published Saturday, Helima Croft, global head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, noted that although Aramco officials have indicated that exports will resume in the next few days, "there is nothing to suggest that this is a one-off event and that the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels will forgo further strikes on Saudi sites."

The war in Yemen has become the world's worst humanitarian crisis. The violence has pushed the country to the brink of famine and killed more than 90,000 people since 2015, according to the US-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, or ACLED, which tracks the conflict.

The rebels have flown drones into the radar arrays of Saudi Arabia's Patriot missile batteries, according to Conflict Armament Research, disabling them and allowing the Houthis to fire ballistic missiles into the kingdom unchallenged. The Houthis launched drone attacks targeting Saudi Arabia's crucial East-West Pipeline in May. In August, Houthi drones struck Saudi Arabia's Shaybah oil field.

AP Israel Hayom Staff

Source: https://www.israelhayom.com/2019/09/15/saudi-arabia-says-drone-attacks-knocked-out-half-its-oil-supply/

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