The recent drone strikes in eastern Saudi Arabia represent a despicable assault on a pillar of the world’s energy supply.
But with much still unclear about the incident, Washington and Riyadh must investigate with care as tensions mount in the region. The attack shut down half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production at one point. Countries fearing a loss of supply from the world’s largest exporter of crude oil should make use of emergency reserves to offset the shortfall.
Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility for the attack on facilities operated by state-run Saudi Arabian Oil (Saudi Aramco). Yet satellite images of the damage show accurate strikes that took out multiple plants. It is only natural to question whether the Houthis could have flown numerous drones more than 1,000 km from Yemen to the attack sites and hit each target with such precision.
U.S. President Donald Trump said Iran appeared to have been involved in the attack. “I don’t want war with anybody. But we’re prepared more than anybody,” he said on Sept. 16.
The attack undoubtedly involved some organizational actor. But the U.S. should not be so quick to point fingers at Iran.
Iran’s accusers need to present objective evidence before the United Nations or at a similar international venue. This must not become a repeat of the Iraq War, where Washington rushed into conflict in 2003 on claims that Baghdad possessed weapons of mass destruction.
Iran, too, must provide evidence to back up its denials.
Regardless of who was behind the attack, such drone strikes are unacceptable. Eastern Saudi Arabia is home to one of the world’s largest concentrations of oil facilities. The country has used its abundant production capacity to help regulate the global supply-demand balance. No other oil-producing nation can take on that role.
The attack caused the price of crude to spike. Any effects on the global economy and financial markets will have to be watched closely.
For oil-buying nations, the important thing is to stay calm. The International Energy Agency requires member countries to hold emergency oil stocks. Japan, for example, can tap enough crude and petroleum products to meet more than 230 days’ worth of demand.
Trump has authorized the release of oil from U.S. strategic reserves if necessary. Oil importers should help maintain a stable supply by coordinating with the IEA and being prepared to use their own stockpiles.
While oil-buying countries get by with their reserves, Saudi Arabia should work quickly to bring the damaged facilities online again. Speedy action to defend against future drone strikes will also be essential.