Illustration by Mahgul Farooqui

Where the U.S. Stands After the Attacks on Saudi Oil

These attacks add to the escalating tension in the Gulf region, often characterized as a cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Oct 5, 2019

After a series of attacks that took place on Sept. 14 at the Abqaiq oil processing facilities as well as the Khurais oil field, Saudi Aramco has announced on Oct. 1 that it has successfully recovered and is back to its full production capability.
The attacks were carried out by a group of 18 drones and seven cruise missiles and resulted in the shutdown of about half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production, or 5.7 million barrels a day. The Houthi rebel group in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack, however, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have named Iran the perpetrator.
These attacks add to the escalating tension in the Gulf region, often characterized as a cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Eric Hamilton, lecturer of Political Science at NYU Abu Dhabi, contextualizes the situation.
“When Donald Trump sort of pulled the U.S. out of [the 2015 Iran nuclear deal], he reimposed sanctions and he tried to get others to reimpose those sanctions on Iran as well. So, now you have this situation where there's a sort of cold war in the background, there's active conflicts that pit Iranian proxies versus Saudi and in some cases U.S. proxies in the region, and there's a sort of tit for tat going on, where Iran is trying to also be able to show it has capabilities that can damage U.S. and Saudi interests in the region.”
Hamilton also remarked on the possible significance of the claims made by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia: “Did the Iranians simply carry it out from Iranian airspace? And if that's the case, then this [is] a big escalation in the conflict, where Iran is launching sophisticated attacks from its own territory, into Saudi Arabia.”
The U.S. responded to these attacks by deploying an additional 200 military personnel to Saudi Arabia and by increasing military technology supplied to the region. When asked about whether the U.S. would intervene in the conflict, Donald Trump, president of the U.S. replied, “So now they’re under attack, and we will work something out with them. But they also know that — you know, I’m not looking to get into new conflict, but sometimes you have to.”
“There is an awareness not to blow this out of proportion, and you saw that in the case of the downed drone, where there was this discussion that the U.S. was preparing a military response, and that the president essentially called it off in the last minute because he was concerned about the loss of human life that might be associated with it,” commented Hamilton.
“And so there’s a sort of real recognition of the human consequences of conflict, the U.S. can use technology in order to target Iranian military infrastructure, but if it does, it's probably going to kill some Iranian soldiers, and then Iran might decide that it in turn has to respond by attacking U.S. military installations, which would also put U.S. personnel at risk,” he concluded.
Matthew Gubbins is News Editor. Email him feedback at
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