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The September 14, 2019 attack on the oil facilities in Saudi Arabia – including Abqaiq, which is considered the largest of its kind in the world - is the most serious kinetic attack on oil facilities in the Gulf since the 1991 Gulf War, in terms of damage and economic significance. The attack resulted in a temporary reduction of 5.7 million barrels per day, about 50 percent of Saudi production capacity (total Saudi production capacity in August was 9.85 million barrels of oil per day, which are about 5 percent of global output). So far, the Saudis have maintained a partial blackout on the full details of the incident, and have so far avoided ascribing direct responsibility to Iran - in contrast to their initial responses following attacks in May and July on oil tankers in the Gulf and oil facilities in the kingdom that were attributed to Iran. Meantime, Riyadh is trying to broadcast “business as usual,” while emphasizing that there were no casualties and that they have the ability to return rapidly to oil production levels. Yet even if the Saudis do manage to resume full production quickly, the vulnerability of the oil supply chain to specific threats in the Gulf has been revealed.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was quick to pin the blame on Iran, while President Donald Trump was more cautious in his pronouncements, saying “it’s looking” as if Iran is behind the attack, and declaring that the US is “locked and loaded” to respond “depending on verification.” The administration, he averred, is “waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!” He added, “I’m not looking to get into a new conflict but sometimes you have to.” Reports in...
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