As is now widely understood, the September 14, 2019, attack on the Saudi oil processing facilities that took out over 5% of the world’s daily oil supply originated from inside Iran.
Although Iran’s Houthi rebel proxies in Yemen claimed credit for the drone and cruise missile attack, statements by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Donald Trump instead pointed the finger of blame directly at the Iranian regime.
Specific details about the attack were sparse, though, until a detailed briefing by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on September 30, 2019. Citing “exclusive and top secret information sourced from inside the Iranian regime,” NCRI spokesman Alireza Jafarzadeh reported that the attack operation was directed from the very top levels of the Islamic Republic of Iran regime.
According to NCRI information, an extraordinary meeting of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) was held in Tehran on July 31, 2019, presided over by Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, is a regular member of the SNSC and also attended. A number of key Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commanders, not usually in attendance at SNSC meetings, were present at this one. Their presence is significant, not only for their central role in the attack two weeks later, but because they command the IRGC at the highest levels and include senior officers responsible for Iran’s IRGC aerospace force.
IRGC Major General Hossein Salami, who was appointed IRGC’s overall commander in April 2019, previously had served at the head of the IRGC Air Force, which has responsibility for Iran’s missile program.
Brigadier General Amir-Ali Hajizadeh, today the commander of the IRGC Aerospace Force, likewise was present at the July planning meeting. Hajizadeh appeared on a November 2018 Iranian TV program where, standing in front of a map of the Persian Gulf and SW Asia region, he explicitly threatened American military bases and naval forces, bragging that Iranian precision-guided missiles could strike any of them in a wide radius.
IRGC Qods Force commander Qassem Suleimani also attended the July 31 meeting as did IRGC Major General Gholam-Ali Rashid, commander of the Khatam-ol Anbiya central military headquarters of Iran; he is responsible for operational coordination among all of the regime’s military forces, both IRGC and regular armed forces.
Iran’s Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, approved the operational plans drawn up at the SNSC meeting, after which more detailed planning began.
On September 7, 2019, IRGC aerospace commanders deployed to Khuzestan Province in SW Iran, where they gathered at the Omidyeh base, situated between the cities of Ahvaz and Omidyeh. Omidyeh, formerly the regime’s Fifth Interceptor Base, from that point onward, became the operational base for the Saudi attack.
Additionally, a team of IRGC commanders with expertise in drones and missiles transferred from the IRGC’s Mahshahr naval base south of Ahvaz prior to the attack to lend their expertise to the operation. Ominously, according to Jafarzadeh, a new IRGC squad from its Aerospace Force arrived at the Omidyeh base from Tehran on Sunday, September 22, 2019. No additional information about its mission is yet available.
Against this backdrop of ratcheting tensions, the U.S., Saudis, and others in the region are walking a tightrope.
The Tehran regime has been pushing the limits of aggression for months now, testing whether it will ever be confronted with serious consequences because so far, it’s faced no real retaliation for attacks spanning decades.
The attack against the Saudi oil facilities on September 14 was unambiguously an act of war, not just against the Saudi Kingdom but the entire global economy that depends on the free flow of oil. But even though Iran has been credibly identified as the perpetrator, it has not yet seriously been held to account.
Speaking on the CBS program “60 Minutes” over the weekend of September 28-29, Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman warned that unless Iran is deterred, it will only escalate its aggression until a real crisis breaks out that could see oil supplies disrupted and “oil prices [will] jump to unimaginably high numbers that we haven’t seen in our lifetimes.”
Speaking to Fox News on September 25, Saudi State Minister of Foreign Affairs, Adel al-Jubeir, also sounded the alarm against the Iranian regime, but appealed to the international community to take action, rather than threatening a unilateral response. Meanwhile, the Trump administration remains reluctant to get drawn into the gathering storm.
The Iran nuclear deal is dead and no amount of Iranian belligerence will bring it back. The question is how much Iranian belligerence will be tolerated and how will it be stopped.