Saudi Arabia shows 'material evidence' of Iranian involvement in oil attacks

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The Saudis have displayed what they say are cruise missiles and drones proving Iran’s responsibility for the recent attack on oil facilities.

The Abqaiq facility and the Khurais oil field were attacked in the early hours of Saturday, causing a reduction of more than half in Saudi Arabia’s daily oil exports – more than 5% of the world’s daily production.

Initially Houthi rebels – backed by Iran – were blamed for the attack. But in recent days, the finger has been pointed directly at Iran.

Image: The drone displayed by Saudi Arabia matches one displayed at a defence show in Iran

Cruise missiles and drones – what we know:

Saudi Colonel Turki bin Saleh al Malki displayed the wreckage of drones and cruise missiles he said had been used in the attack.

Sky’s defence correspondent Alistair Bunkall says Iran has spent considerable money and resources developing its drone fleet. It now has a range of around 30 different types of unmanned aircraft – some armed, others just for surveillance.

The drone displayed by Saudi Arabia in Riyadh matches one displayed at a defence show in Iran in 2014.

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Investigators have been examining a circuit board found in one of the crashed drones. That will help establish things like trajectory and origin.

Given that Yemen has been ruled out, as a possible launch site, that would suggest short or possibly medium range cruise missiles were used from either Iraq or Iran.

Where were the weapons launched from?

Colonel al Malki ruled out Yemen – he said the weapons did not come form the south. Instead he said they came from the north, the direction of Iran. There have already been reports from the US that the weapons were fired from southwest Iran.

The colonel went on to say they have not yet pinpointed the exact launch site but are analysing the weapons and expect to find information on the drones that will give them the answer to this. When they have the answer, he said, they will tell the world.

Slides from Saudi Arabia's powerpoint presentation on attacks it says were arranged by Iran

Image: Slides from Saudi Arabia’s powerpoint presentation on attacks it says were arranged by Iran

Is the attack embarrassing for Saudi Arabia?

Asked by Sky News’ Mark Stone in Riyadh whether Saudi Arabia’s air defences had failed, the colonel said the country’s leadership continued to be “really proud” of their air defences, adding there is not country in the world that has been attacked so often. However, Stone said: “From a military perspective this is deeply embarrassing for Saudi Arabia. Their air defences failed spectacularly and the consequence was laid out in front of the Saudi military spokesman.

“They clearly feel that the embarrassment is worth it because countering Iran, its influence and the danger they believe it poses is the priority.”

So if Iran did do this, what does it show us about their intentions?

Despite what the Saudis said during the press conference, the attack has shown how weak their defences are.

Iran has already proved it can create trouble in the Strait of Hormuz, a vital shipping lane for oil and gas, with its actions towards British-flagged ships there earlier this year.

If responsible for the Saudi attack, it is also showing it can cause problems for the world’s oil markets. Prices for Brent crude shot up around 20% when markets opened for the first time after the Saudi attack (although they settled later), so the attack shows how easy it is to create economic uncertainty in this way.

What is the US likely to do now?

The US, despite some of the words from Donald Trump, is unlikely to want a major confrontation with Iran. As much as Mr Trump is portrayed as being a warmonger, he campaigned on ending US involvement in overseas wars. The last thing he wants is to be drawn into a conflict with Iran, especially as he starts his re-election campaign for 2020.

Economic sanctions are possible but the US has already imposed significant economic sanctions on the Iranian regime. They are having an effect but Mr Trump seems to underestimate the regime’s resilience.

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