The Sept. 14 drone and missile attack on two of Saudi Arabia’s major oil infrastructure facilities triggered an escalation of already high tensions in the region. Houthi rebels operating out of neighboring Yemen initially took credit for launching the drone attack which crippled more than half of the Saudi’s oil output, five percent of the global oil supply.
But the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, later joined by Britain, France and Germany, have accused the Houthi forces of falsely claiming to have carried out the Saudi attack to cover up the role Tehran allegedly played in orchestrating the sophisticated airstrike, an accusation that Iran and the Houthis have denied. But there appears to be division within the ranks of the Houthis over how closely to align with Tehran. On Sept. 20, the Houthis offered a unilateral cease-fire and, the Wall Street Journal reported that some Houthi militants have warned foreign diplomats that Iran is preparing another attack on Saudi Arabia. Thus far, President Trump has not ordered U.S. military action, but imposed new sanctions on Iran’s central bank.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Mel Goodman, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, adjunct professor of International Relations at Johns Hopkins University and author, who assesses the Trump regime’s response to the drone attack on Saudi oil infrastructure, as he links rising regional tensions to Trump’s 2018 unilateral withdrawal from the international nuclear agreement with Iran.
MEL GOODMAN: Well, the Houthis claimed responsibility initially. They’re no longer claiming responsibility. And what I find interesting about the Houthis is now they’re offering to Saudi Arabia to get into discussions to halt the artillery and missile attacks, particularly the artillery and missile attacks of Saudi Arabia on Yemen. But also the Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia. So I don’t think the Houthis had anything to do with this attack that only Iran could’ve orchestrated. Intelligence sources I’ve talked to said that the missiles didn’t come from the South. They didn’t come from Yemen, they came from the North. And what is also interesting about this attack is, it was extremely sophisticated. There were 20 drone aircraft and cruise missiles. Only one missed its target. And I’m told they came from multiple locations. So, I assume some may have come from Shia areas in Iraq where the Iranian Revolutionary Guard has been active and possibly from Iran itself. But, not from Yemen, not from the Houthis.
And I would think in terms of what Iran has orchestrated here, it’s part of their response to the maximum pressure that the United States keeps talking about. It’s Iran’s way of saying, “You know, we can apply maximum pressure as well.” So if you go back to June when they downed the drone and then the interference with the tankers in the region and attacks we’ve seen on the pipeline in Saudi Arabia and now this sophisticated attack on the oil production facilities, Iran has sort of told Donald Trump that “Okay, you created this crisis, you own this crisis. You started this crisis. But it’s not like we don’t have weapons to deal with this problem.”
And it’s clear that Donald Trump does not want to use military force. You have to go back to June when the military was prepared to go. And with 10 minutes left before the strike was supposed to take place, all of the Naval instruments were in place. Donald Trump called off the attack, saying once he learned about the fact that there might be 150 civilian casualties, he decided this was not proportional and he wasn’t going to use military force.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Mel, as you said, if the evidence points to Iran orchestrating this attack on the Saudi oil facilities, wasn’t the Iranian government taking a huge risk there? And in that there’s been so much bellicose rhetoric going back and forth between Washington and Riyadh and Tehran that this could have set off and maybe still will set off some horrific war between Iran, the Gulf States with the U.S. involvement. Why take such a risk?
MEL GOODMAN: Well, one, I don’t think they’re worried about the Gulf States. They’re certainly not worried about Saudi Arabia. In fact, what this attack exposed was all of the shortcomings of the Saudi military. They’ve been involved in this disaster in Yemen, this terrible humanitarian crisis now for about five years. Their military is quite suspect. Their officers are really people who have family connections. It’s a classic case of nepotism. When you look at the highest levels of the Saudi military, there really is no enlisted force to speak of. And when you talk about war and the use of military as an instrument, you rely on your enlisted people. The Saudi air force I think needs training wheels and the United States Air Force are those training wheels.
So the concern is not with, Saudi Arabia or the Gulf States, but you’re right. They had to calculate that, Donald Trump was a classic bully, that he was all bluster, that they were going to apply their own campaign of maximum pressure. And I think you’re right, it was risky to hit the Saudi production capabilities in a significant way, but they felt they still had cards to play given the vulnerability of U.S. Forces in Iraq, where the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is also present. And also the vulnerability of a very small number of American forces in Syria.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Mel, with the walls closing in on Donald Trump with his most recent scandal, is there a danger that Donald Trump could take military action against Iran to distract the public from this latest scandal, which seems quite serious in its scope and with possible repercussions of driving the House to push aggressively for impeachment?
MEL GOODMAN: Well, I’ve been worried about Trump right along from the very beginning that at some point he’s going to realize that the one way to rally support for his presidency and his administration and his inept leadership is to use military power which, in this country, always rallies around the flag. There’s always the possibility he’ll wake up one morning and decide “This is the morning when I’m going to unleash military forces.”
Goodman’s most recent books are “American Carnage: The Wars of Donald Trump” and “A Whistleblower at the CIA: The Path of Dissent.”
For more information on the Center for International Policy, visit internationalpolicy.org.