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  • Saudi Arabia: Drone Attacks Halted Half Its Oil Production

    Saudi Arabia: Drone Attacks Halted Half Its Oil Production

    Saudi Arabia: Drone Attacks Halted Half Its Oil Production

    Edward Yeranian - Voice of America

    Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said Saturday that drone attacks on two Aramco oil facilities by a Yemen Houthi militia group have cut the kingdom’s oil production in half.

    Amateur video of the early morning attack in Abqaiq, in eastern Saudi Arabia, showed several blazes raging. By afternoon, video showed huge plumes of smoke rising into the sky. Saudi officials said no workers were killed or injured in the attacks.

    A military spokesman for Yemen’s Houthi militia, Col. Yahya Saree, claimed responsibility Saturday for the drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities and vowed to increase them if Saudi-coalition forces continued their strikes on targets inside Yemen. It was not clear, however, if the drones originated in Yemen.

    Saree said 10 (Houthi) drones hit the two oil facilities run by Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil giant. He said the attacks are being dubbed “Operation Balance of Terror” and are a response to what he called the “ongoing crimes of blockade and aggression on Yemen” (since the Saudi-led coalition began battling the Houthis five years ago).

    Saree claimed the attack was the “largest to date” and that it “required extensive intelligence preparations,” including information from sources inside Saudi Arabia.

    Later Saturday, however, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran for the attacks on the Saudi oil plants, and ruled out involvement by Yemen’s Houthis.

    “Tehran is behind nearly 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia while Rouhani and Zarif pretend to engage in diplomacy,” Pompeo said on social media, referring to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif.

    “Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply. There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen,” he said in a tweet.

    The State Department declined to provide any evidence to bolster Pompeo’s claim, Reuters reported.

    The attack on the oil processing sites in Saudi Arabia happened around 4 a.m. local time.

    Residents of Abqaiq posted video of what appeared to be Saudi anti-aircraft guns firing into the air at the drones, as the attacks took place. Some Arab news channels claimed that Saudi air force early warning planes were dispatched to the country’s northern border, amid fears the drones were coming from Iraq. VOA could not independently confirm the allegations.

    U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia John Abizaid told Reuters news agency, “The U.S. strongly condemns today’s drone attacks against oil facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais. These attacks against critical infrastructure endanger civilians, are unacceptable, and sooner or later will result in innocent lives being lost.”

    James Krane, a Middle East energy specialist at the Baker Institute at Rice University in Texas, told Reuters, “This is a pretty serious escalation of the proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. With something like this, we might see the U.S. get dragged in. Iran is telling us, ‘You need to put us on the front burner.’

    “They’re not going to be put out of the picture forever. With (former U.S. national security adviser John) Bolton out, who knows? It is hard to see that Bolton’s departure isn’t part of the calculus,” Krane added. “Iran is stepping up what they see is its defense and looking for us to make the next move, and we’ve just fired the hardest-line guy in the Cabinet.”

    The attacks Saturday were the latest of many recent such assaults on the Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure, and they have been the most destructive.

    Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said in a statement by the state-run Saudi Press Agency Saturday that the damage at the facilities led to “the temporary suspension of production operations,” affecting an estimated 5.7 million barrels of crude supplies at the Abqaiq site and the Khurais oil field.

    Saudi Aramco said in the statement some of the shortage would be offset with stockpiled supplies and added it would provide additional information in the next 48 hours.

    The drone assaults also led to concerns about the global oil supply and what will likely be an increase in tensions in the region.

    Drones not likely launched in Yemen

    Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, told VOA that he suspects the drones may not have been launched from inside Yemen because the Houthis don’t have drones capable of flying as far as Saudi Arabia’s eastern province. Khashan does believe, however, that forces inside the kingdom helped guide the attacks.

    “There is no doubt that in order for the Houthis to land the drone on the target they need coordinates and they need someone on the ground to guide them in determining the coordinates. It sounds plausible to me that they have support on the ground in the Eastern Province,” Khashan said.

    There has been some speculation that alleged Houthi drone attacks on the Saudi Yanbu pipeline last May were launched from Iraq, which is much closer to the target than Yemen. That attack damaged two oil pumping stations along the largest Saudi cross-country oil pipeline.

    Saturday’s attack comes as the Saudi oil giant Aramco prepares to publicly sell shares of the company, leading some analysts to speculate the attacks were meant to depress the value of the company when its shares go on the market.

    Several analysts on Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV accused Iran of perpetrating Saturday’s drone attacks from bases operated by its Revolutionary Guard and local Shiite proxies from inside Iraq. VOA could not confirm the claims.

    SWJED Sun, 09/15/2019 - 1:34am

  • As Israel’s Anti-Iran Strategy Shifts Into Higher Gear, Worries of Fresh Conflict Grow

    As Israel’s Anti-Iran Strategy Shifts Into Higher Gear, Worries of Fresh Conflict Grow

    As Israel’s Anti-Iran Strategy Shifts Into Higher Gear, Worries of Fresh Conflict Grow by Amberin Zaman – Al-Monitor

    Preemptively targeting Iran and its proxies in Syria, or “mowing the grass,” as the Israelis say, remains the centerpiece of the strategy to deny Iran a “land bridge” to its proxies in Lebanon, via Iraq and Syria. Such a route would pose an abiding threat to Israel.

    This strategy aims to prevent Hezbollah from adding so-called "smart" precision-guided missiles to its arsenal of rockets, which a senior Israeli official told Al-Monitor number “at least 100,000.” The same source said that, faced with an entrenched Iranian presence in Syria, “it is now out of the question that we leave the Golan Heights to Syria.”

    Defense experts argue that Israel’s tactics have proven successful so far. “We have built a system in which we don’t commit errors,” said Yaakov Amidror, a retired major general and former national security adviser to Netanyahu from 2011 to 2013, who continues to advise him on Syria. “The Syrian conflict is not our war. But we have made clear that we have two red lines. That we will not allow Hezbollah and its allies to build bases in the Golan Heights or any new launching pads against Israel," he told Al-Monitor. “We are bombing Iranian facilities and Iranian rockets in Syria wherever we identify them, and we are preventing Iran from building another war machine in Iraq.”…

    Read on.

    SWJED Sun, 09/15/2019 - 12:11am

  • Kabul Rules Out Peace Deal With Taliban Before September 28 Election

    Kabul Rules Out Peace Deal With Taliban Before September 28 Election

    Kabul Rules Out Peace Deal With Taliban Before September 28 Election

    Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

    A spokesman for Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani says the Afghan government will only consider making a "legitimate" peace with the Taliban after a national election in September, despite political uncertainty following the recent collapse of U.S.-Taliban peace talks.

    Presidential spokesman Sediq Seddiqi made the remarks on September 14, saying: "Nothing will impede the presidential election from happening" on September 28.

    Seddiqi said the "legitimacy" of a peace deal with the Taliban "cannot be achieved without elections."

    Sediqqi said a Taliban delegation's visit to Russia on September 13, just days after U.S. President Donald Trump called off talks with Taliban negotiators in Qatar, shows that the Taliban is faced with a "political failure" of its own.

    He said the Taliban should talk directly with the Afghan government, which they have refused to do, rather than with foreign powers.

    A Taliban negotiating team on September 13 met in Moscow with Zamir Kabulov, President Vladimir Putin's envoy for Afghanistan.

    A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman told the Interfax news agency that the meeting underlined the importance of renewing talks between the U.S. officials and the Taliban.

    Russia’s Foreign Ministry also said that the Taliban negotiators, led by Mullah Sher Mohammad Stanikzai, had told Kabulov that they are ready to continue talks with Washington.

    Sediqqi also suggested major changes to improve security across Afghanistan ahead of the vote.

    The Taliban consider the Afghan government a U.S. puppet and have warned Afghans not to vote, saying that polling stations will be targeted by militant attacks.

    SWJED Sun, 09/15/2019 - 12:10am

  • Taliban Negotiators Meet With Russian Officials After Trump Ends Talks

    Taliban Negotiators Meet With Russian Officials After Trump Ends Talks

    Taliban Negotiators Meet With Russian Officials After Trump Ends Talks by Craig Nelson and Thomas Grove – Wall Street Journal

    Taliban negotiators have held talks with Russian officials in Moscow, in an apparent effort to restart discussions with the U.S. just days after President Trump killed a nearly completed deal to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan and declared negotiations with the insurgent group dead.

    The Taliban’s representatives met President Vladimir Putin ’s envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, on Friday in the Russian capital, the state news agency Tass said. Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, confirmed on Saturday that the consultations had taken place.

    Neither Mr. Shaheen nor the Russian government disclosed the agenda of the discussions. The Russian Foreign Ministry said Taliban officials confirmed their interest in continued talks with Washington. During the discussions, Mr. Kabulov also stressed the importance of resuming the U.S.-Taliban talks, Russia’s Interfax news agency said…

    Read on.

    SWJED Sat, 09/14/2019 - 2:59pm

  • Saudi Arabia: Fires Out After Purported Houthi Drone Strikes on Oil Facilities

    Saudi Arabia: Fires Out After Purported Houthi Drone Strikes on Oil Facilities

    Saudi Arabia: Fires Out After Purported Houthi Drone Strikes on Oil Facilities

    Edward Yeranian – Voice of America

    Saudi Arabia's interior ministry says that fires from an apparent early morning drone strike at Aramco oil facilities in the eastern town of Abqaiq have been extinguished and that no one was killed in the attacks.

    A military spokesman for Yemen's Houthi militia group claimed responsibility for the drone strikes, but it was not clear if the drones originated in Yemen.  

    Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV also reported that "fires from attacks on two major oil facilities in the eastern town of Abqaiq have now been extinguished, although operations to cool the sites are still ongoing." Video showed giant plumes of steam rising into the afternoon sky.

    Amateur video of the early morning attack showed a number of fires raging outside of Abqaiq in the night-time sky as what appeared to be another explosion that erupted in the distance. Saudi media reported that the attacks took place Saturday about 4 a.m. local time.

    Residents of Abqaiq posted video of what appeared to be Saudi anti-aircraft guns firing into the air at the drones, as the attacks took place. Some Arab news channels claimed that Saudi air force early warning planes were dispatched to the country's northern border, amid fears the drones were coming from Iraq. VOA could not independently confirm the allegations.

    Yemen's Houthi militia's military spokesman, Col. Yahya Saree, claimed responsibility for the drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities and vowed to increase them if Saudi-coalition forces continued their strikes on targets inside Yemen.

    He said that 10 (Houthi) drones hit two Saudi Aramco oil facilities in the east of the kingdom, early Saturday, and that they sustained direct hits. He said the attacks are being dubbed "Operation Balance of Terror" and are a response to what he called the "ongoing crimes of blockade and aggression on Yemen" (since the Saudi-led coalition began battling the Houthis five years ago).

    Saree claimed the attack was the "largest to date" and that it "required extensive intelligence preparations," including information from sources inside Saudi Arabia.

    Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, told VOA that he suspects the drones may not have been launched from inside Yemen since the Houthis don't have drones capable of flying as far as Saudi Arabia's eastern province. Khashan does believe, however, that forces inside the kingdom helped guide the attacks.

    "There is no doubt that in order for the Houthis to land the drone on the target they need coordinates and they need someone on the ground to guide them in determining the coordinates. It sounds plausible to me that they have support on the ground in the Eastern Province," Khashan said.

    There has been some speculation that alleged Houthi drone attacks on the Saudi Yanbu pipeline last May were launched from Iraq, which is much closer to the target than Yemen. That attack damaged two oil pumping stations along the largest Saudi cross-country oil pipeline.

    Saturday's attack comes as the Saudi oil giant Aramco prepares to publicly sell shares of the company, leading some analysts to speculate the attacks were meant to depress the value of the company when its shares go on the market.

    Several analysts on Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV accused Iran of perpetrating Saturday's drone attacks from bases operated by its Revolutionary Guard and local Shi'ite proxies from inside Iraq. VOA could not confirm the claims.

    SWJED Sat, 09/14/2019 - 2:18pm

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