Speculation mounts on Iran’s involvement in Aramco attacks, Trump orders more sanctions

'Iran almost certainly behind the Aramco attacks' Saudi envoy said. (AFP)
Updated 18 September 2019

Speculation mounts on Iran’s involvement in Aramco attacks, Trump orders more sanctions

  • Saudi envoy says Iran almost certainly behind Aramco attacks
  • World leaders continue to condemn the attacks which took place on Saturday

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to London said on Wednesday that Iran was almost certainly behind attacks on Saudi oil facilities.

“Almost certainly it’s Iranian-backed,” Prince Khalid bin Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud told the BBC.

“We’re trying not to react too quickly because the last thing we need is more conflict in the region.”

“We’re investigating the issue. We’re working with our partners in the United States, the UN, the UK, and anyone else who wants to get involved, to help us resolve what happened, figure out what happened, where they came from, the attack.”

However Saudi Arabia has promised it will present evidence on Wednesday evening that it says will link Iran to the attacks.

The press conference will show evidence of Iran’s involvement in the Aramco attacks, state TV added.

It will also show Iranian weapons that were used in the attacks.

Iran denies any involvement in the attacks, but has threatened retaliatory action against any country that attacks it.

Late Wednesday the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash took to Twitter, praising Aramco for its handling of the crisis, saying the firm deserved medals for its professional and political reaction.

Late Wednesday US President Donald Trump said he had ordered Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to “substantially increase sanctions” imposed on Iran.

He did not give additional details on the move.

Prince Khalid bin Salman, Saudi deputy defense minister, tweeted about the US sanction increases saying Saudi Arabia thanked the US for its stance against Iran and appreciated its position.

Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the attacks by phone with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also on Wednesday, the Kremlin said.

Putin and the crown prince expressed their commitment to bilateral cooperation on stabilizing global oil prices and the Russian leader called for a thorough and impartial investigation into the attacks in Saudi Arabia, the Kremlin said.

Putin is expected later this year to travel to Saudi Arabia.

The head of Russia's Direct Investment Fund on Wednesday praised Saudi Aramco's quick recovery of oil production after attacks on its facilities, and said Russian companies had offered to help fix the damage.

The Saudi Aramco facilities were hit in drone strikes on Saturday, causing fires to break out.

The Houthis claimed responsibility, but an investigation is underway involving representatives from various nations.

Meanwhile US broadcaster NBC reported that President Trump had received a security briefing on possible actions against Iran – including military.

However it is understood that Trump sent the advisors away asking for further options.

The United States believes the attacks that crippled Saudi Arabian oil facilities last weekend originated in southwestern Iran, a US official told Reuters, an assessment that further increases tension in the Middle East.

But Iran issued a denial on Wednesday with a stern warning to the world that it would respond to any attacks.

In a diplomatic note sent to the United States, Iran denied any role in the attacks on Saudi oil installations and warned of a response to any action, state media said Wednesday.

The formal memo sent on Monday through the Swiss embassy, which represents US interests in Tehran, “emphasized that Iran has not played any role in this attack and denies and condemns” the US claims to the contrary, the official IRNA news agency said.

Iran’s security minister warned that any attempt to attack them would be met with an “overwhelming response.”

Meanwhile the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah on Wednesday to discuss the attacks and coordinate efforts against “Iranian aggression.”

Mike Pompeo “will meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to discuss the recent attack on the Kingdom’s oil facilities and coordinate efforts to counter Iranian aggression in the region,” a Twitter posting said.

Pompeo will then travel to the UAE capital Abu Dhabi to meet with its crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, and discuss regional and bilateral issues, it said.

(With AFP and Reuters)


Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

Updated 15 October 2019

Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

  • Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades

ANKARA: As Ankara pressed on with its offensive in northeastern Syria amid international criticism, Washington announced some 1,000 soldiers were withdrawn from the zone.

With the US departure, the attention turns to how the regional actors, especially Turkey and Syria, will operate in their zones of influence in the war-torn country where the possible escape of Daesh fighters from prisons could result in more chaos.

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades. The PKK is listed as a terror group by Turkey, the EU and the US.

But, whether some 50,000 YPG fighters will be integrated into the Syrian Army or will try to maintain their autonomy is still a matter of concern.

Mazloum Abdi, commander-in-chief of the SDF, recently wrote for Foreign Policy that the Kurds are finally ready to partner with Assad and Putin.

Yury Barmin, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, said: “Damascus and the SDF struck a deal at the Russian base in Hmeymim to let the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) enter the Kurdish-controlled area in the northeast and deploy at the Syrian-Turkish border. The SAA is set to take control over Manbij, Kobane and Qamishli.”

However, Barmin told Arab News that a deal between Damascus and the SDF would greatly contribute to a buffer zone that Turkish President Recep Yayyip Erdogan intends to create in northern Syria, allowing Kurds to take some areas along the border without directly antagonizing Ankara. This policy, Barmin added, would be unacceptable to Moscow.

“There are now lots of moving targets and the goal of the Syrian Army — whether it will take some strategic cities or control the whole border along Turkey — is unclear for now. As Russian President Vladimir Putin is on his official visit to Saudi Arabia, his decision for Syria will be clearer when he returns home,” he said.

HIGHLIGHT

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Barmin also noted that Russia let Erdogan operate the Adana agreement to a certain extent, under which Turkey has the right to conduct cross-border operations.

“But now, Russia would like to show Turkey its own red lines in the region,” he said.

However, Navvar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, said that the Syrian regime is not capable of striking a deal without being backed by Russians, and that Moscow would not want to lose its relationship with Ankara.

“Russians always talk about the Adana agreement. We are now talking about a renewal and reactivation of the agreement with new specifications to allow Turkey to go deeper into Syrian territories. In this way, the Russians will have a bigger chance to allow the Syrian regime and Turkey to communicate. It is something that will open the diplomatic channels,” Saban said.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “Big sanctions on Turkey coming! Do people really think we should go to war with NATO Member Turkey? Never ending wars will end!”

Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said that if the US is completely out of the way, Russia and Turkey will have to either agree or contest each other to take over the US territorial control in northeast Syria. He added that this might be the most crucial race in the coming weeks.

Concerning the diplomatic channels between Damascus and Ankara, Macaron thinks that the channels were and will remain open between Moscow and Ankara since they have common interests beyond Syria.

“If Turkey had no other option, it might have to settle for controlling a few border towns, but this means Erdogan can no longer effectively implement his plan to return Syrian refugees, most notably without funding from the international community. Ankara is more likely to succeed in striking such a deal with Moscow than with Washington,” Macaron told Arab News.

Many experts agree that the Syrian chessboard will be determined predominantly by Russian moves.

“Assad has no say in what will happen next, Russia is the decision maker and there is little the Syrian regime can do unless Iran forcefully intervenes to impact the Russian-Turkish dynamics in the northeast,” Macaron said.