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A Precision Strike on US Credibility – Shattering a US Paradigm

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A Precision Strike on US Credibility – Shattering a US Paradigm

MBS

Written by Alastair Crooke; Originally appeared on strategic-culture.org

The precision attack on the Saudi ‘jewel in the crown’, crude-processing installation last week, is also a precision assault on Saudi credibility, on the believability of the US security ‘umbrella’, and a humiliation for Trump, and particularly to America’s image as a competent military and intelligence power.

Gulf States will be pursing their lips as they consider now their own vulnerabilities and question their reliance on that US umbrella. Even the Pentagon might be questioning, ‘what then – is the point to CentCom’ in light of what has happened? And above all, Israel will be experiencing a very chill wind sending shivers up the spine: Israelis cannot but be a tad struck in awe at the attack’s precise targeting and technical efficacy. Quite impressive – especially given that Saudi spent $65 billion on weaponry last year, to no good avail.

Facing this humiliation, the US Administration has been ‘blowing smoke’: tossing around red-herrings about the origin and launch of the UAVs and cruise missiles. ‘It can’t be AnsarAllah (the Houthis), because such an operation was sophisticated beyond their capabilities’. Apart from the obvious Orientalism to this assertion (for, if Hizbullah can manufacture smart drones and smart cruise missiles, why shouldn’t the Houthis be able so to do?), do the exact, individual contributions towards the strike on Abqaiq really matter? What is most telling is that the US – with all its massive resources in the Gulf – cannot provide the evidence from whence came these UAVs to Abqaiq.

Actually, the ambiguity about the strike modus operandi represents just another layer to the sophistication of the attack.

The US is ‘blowing smoke’ about launch sites mainly to divert from the very obvious (but embarrassing) fact that the raining down of missiles on Abqaiq, primordially owes to the Saudi war on Yemen (supported unreservedly by Trump). The Houthis have claimed the attack; they say they will demonstrate their weaponry (which certainly in the case of the Houthi Quds 1 cruise missile is no mere copy of the Iranian Soumar missile – see here), and promise to repeat their attacks in the near future.

What the precision strike has done is to shatter the ‘vessel’ of the US posing as somehow ‘guardian’ of the Gulf, and guarantor of the crude oil lifeblood feeding into the veins of a fragile world economy. This to say, it was a precision strike aimed at the prevailing paradigm – and it scored a direct hit. It exposed the hollowness of both claims. Anthony Cordesman writes, “the strikes on Saudi Arabia provide a clear strategic warning that the US era of air supremacy in the Gulf, and the near US monopoly on precision strike capability, is rapidly fading”.

Were the Iranians directly or indirectly involved? Well … it doesn’t really matter. To understand the implications properly, it should be understood as somehow a joint message – coming from a common front (Iran, Syria, Hizbullah, Hash’d a-Shaibi and the Houthis). This was about blasting the wider sanctions crisis to a head: a strategic (missile) popping of the over-inflated ‘balloon’ of the efficacy of US “maximum pressure” tactics. Trump’s ‘sanctioning/tariffing the world’ had to be brought to a head – and be exploded. Russia and China would almost certainly concur, and (quietly) applaud.

There are clear risks to this approach. Will the message be heard correctly in Washington? For, as Gareth Porter points out in a different context, Washington’s ability to comprehend, or to ‘read well’, its ‘enemies’ mind seems to have been somehow lost – out of a failure in Washington to discover any strain of empathy towards ‘otherness’ (either Iranian, Chinese or Russian). So the prospects, probably, are not great. Washington will not ‘get it’, but rather, may double-down, with potentially disastrous consequences. Porter writes:

“The Abqaiq strike is also a dramatic demonstration of Iran’s ability to surprise the United States strategically, [thus] upsetting its political-military plans. Iran has spent the last two decades preparing for an eventual confrontation with the United States, and the result is a new generation of drones and cruise missiles that give Iran the ability to counter far more effectively any US effort to destroy its military assets and to target US bases across the Middle East.

“The United States was apparently taken by surprise when Iran shot down a high-altitude … surveillance drone … Iran’s air defence system has been continually upgraded, beginning with the Russian S-300 system it received in 2016. Iran also just unveiled in 2019 its Bavar-373 air defence system, which it regards as closer to the Russian S-400 system coveted by India and Turkey – than to the S-300 system.

“Then there is Iran’s development of a fleet of military drones, which has prompted one analyst to call Iran a ‘drone superpower’. Its drone accomplishments reportedly include the Shahed-171 “stealth drone” with precision-guided missiles, and the Shahed-129, which it reverse-engineered from the US Sentinel RQ-170 and the MQ-1 Predator” [emphasis & link added].

Understanding Porter’s message represents the key to comprehending the nature of the ‘Great Shift’ taking place in the region. Robot planes and drones – simply – have changed the calculus of war. The old verities no longer hold – there is no simple US military solution to Iran.

An US attack on Iran will bring only a firm Iranian response – and escalation. A full US invasion – as in the 2003 invasion of Iraq – is no longer within US capabilities.

There is only a political answer. But for now, the US and MbS both, are in a stage of denial: the latter apparently believes that continuing with the partial sale of Aramco might solve his problems (though markets have just re-awoken to geo-political risk to assets, such as Aramco), and Trump seems still to believe that maximum pressure might still come up trumps.

For the rest of us, ‘the political’ is pretty obvious for Saudi Arabia: Accept defeat in Yemen, and with it, its corollary – engaging with Iran and Russia is a sine qua non for achieving any settlement. For sure it will be costly for MbS, both politically and financially. But what is the alternative? Wait upon further Abqaiqs? To be fair, there are reports that the al-Saud understand their situation now to be existential. We shall see.

And for Trump, the lesson surely is clear. The strike on Abqaiq could have been easily worse (with greater interruption to oil supplies). Oil markets and markets more generally have woken up to the geo-political risks to Trump’s maximum pressure tactics. And they are becoming nervous, as world trade falters.

Headlines such as “Stunning weekend attacks take out 50% of Saudi Arabia’s oil output … Can the economy survive a higher oil price…?” may be a bit too alarmist, but they make the point: Supply disruption could easily tip the fragile US and the global economy into recession, were higher prices to be sustained.

No one is more aware of this than President Trump because his re-election chances in 2020 may hinge on whether the US can stay out of recession. Generally speaking, US Presidents who seek a second term are always re-elected, unless they have a recession late in their first term. This happened to Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush – both lost re-election bids because of recessions on their watches.

Already both Saudi Arabia and Trump are rowing back from a possible (diversionary) confrontation with Iran (in lieu of addressing the Yemen issue, which remains at the root of Saudi’s difficulties). The question is how long denial over the flaws to the maximum-pressure Iran policy might continue? Up to the elections? Probably yes. Trump has some constituency egos he must stroke – in parallel to avoiding the potentially fatal landmine of recession – if he is to gain a second term. And that means pandering to the Evangelical and AIPAC obsession with Iran as our era’s ‘cosmic evil’ – one positive ‘straw in the wind’ might be the end to the Netanyahu reign (although Gantz is no Iran ‘dove’).

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  • Tiresia Branding

    with the new China-Iran economic deal and Iran-Russia financial interconnection, Trump can press until eternity

  • Icarus Tanović

    Look at that ugly, monstruous face. Soon to be with blood and bruises all over.

  • Garga

    The US and it’s stooges, including Saudis are incapable of taking the right path. Today Saudi coalition airplanes a mosque in Yemen, killing all members of a family who took refuge there, two more children are still under the rubble. Read it again: The custodians of the holiest places for Muslims, bombed a mosque, which needless to say was not a military base.

    With this one and other bombings in the last 24 hours Saudis clearly showed they don’t believe in a diplomatic solution. The blood of their victims will drag them down, it’s only a matter of time.

    So, in addition to the US and Saudis, the UK, France and Germany said they are pretty sure that Iran is to blame for the retaliatory attack on Saudi oil and want Iran to bend the knee on issues of nuclear (doesn’t matter how wide and sever the inspections and Iran’s cooperation), missiles (doesn’t matter if Iran voluntarily kept it’s missile range to 200km, meaning no threat to Europe) and regional (again, pay no attention to the income source of all terror groups and their ideology). It is clear with each concession from Iran they want something more. Iran should teach them a lesson by taking more steps to reduce it’s commitments in regards to JCPoA and increasing the missile range. If you go back one single step, they come 3 more steps.

    And for weapon sales to the petty monarchs in the Arabian peninsula, don’t look at it as a means to increase their military might or securing their nation. They buy weapons as a way to bribe foreigners for their own security against their own people. How can a sane mind justifies Bahrain’s move to buy Patriot system right after it spectacularly failed 10 days ago? Saudis bought so much weapons that they cannot use them. They just rust in the desert but do their real job which has nothing to do with the country’s security.

    I just hope there’s no false flag in the cooking with the new US shipment of it’s soldiers to KSA.

    Now to lighten the mood, I saw this tweet on ISW’s twitter account, I thought it’s funny (in regard to Iran and sanctions):

    https://twitter.com/A7_Mirza/status/1175494208813244421

    • Tiresia Branding

      seems another war is not avoidable, just because the masters of the universe are incapable to accept peacefully their defeat. It is sad but it is. The “good” perspective is that the next war will be the last: and the evil will not survive

      • Rhodium 10

        I dont think so!…Russian military drills with China,Kazajistan,Uzbekistan,Kirguistan, Armenia and tajikistan( Also some special forces soldiers of India and pakistan)..in Caspian sea and Orenburg oblast under pretex of fight vs terrorism…may also be aimed an eventual protection of Iran and supply routes through Caspian sea….

        • Tiresia Branding

          I intend such a WW. I don’t belive zionist are wise to surrender

    • FlorianGeyer

      That cat looks just like my cat. He is a clever chap :)

      I was musing about the Houthi’s ability to manufacture sophisticated weapons, Garga.
      In recent years the availability of lightweight and compact machine tools of all descriptions have made it possible for small machine shops to produce quality equipment that was previously made in large factories during the last 100 years or so.

      So, with modern machine tools it is possible for trained machine personnel to manufacture advanced equipment. 3D printing is just one aspect of this and the computing power of a smart phone is easily able to be the ‘brain’ of a weapon. Computer design and control of manufacture are also readily available for low cost now. CAD computers are everywhere.

      Ironically, the Western countries will continue to ban the sale of advanced weapons to their populations, yet they can easily be made in a shed by skilled workers.
      Civil wars in Western nations are now on the cards I think :)

      • PZIVJ

        Your post got me thinking Florian. ( this occurs on occasion ) :D
        For a one time use drone, why not use a lot of plastic in the design.
        That could reduce weight and add to range, may also make it more stealthy?
        Plus plastics can be fabricated in molds, requiring a bit more machining and adding some aluminum stiffeners rods.

        • Harry Smith

          The main issue is not the manufacturing, but the flight program. Missile or drone has to understand where it is now and how to continue the flight. I think, the transfer of the tech to the Houthis became possible after the swarm drones attack on the Khmeimim base. USA declared then, that it was very possible for “moderates” to produce these drones and there were used parts, which you can freely buy in any tech store. While Russian army speakers shown the parts, which were “military only”. So now, USA can not say that Iranians gave Houthis some parts for their drones and missiles, because otherwise they have to recognize tier involvement in the Khmeimim swarm attack. Just my point of view.

        • FlorianGeyer

          Good idea, PZIVJ.

          The UK military though will not be using plastics soon, as they wish to tick the Green ‘Thunberg’ boxes in order to recruit more Eco warriors.
          UK drone materials will be sourced from ‘Sustainable’ reed beds and turnips etc.

          Arguably, the Houthis are also ticking some of the Green Boxes by destroying the Saudi oil production :)

    • BMWA1

      good essay

    • Barba_Papa

      Nothing says don’t mess with Iran more then an underground nuclear test and the followup announcement that nuclear equipped missiles arefrom now on fully operational and ready at the first sign of trouble. Granted, it will open up another can of worms but the world seems to have accepted Pakistani and North Korean nuclear weapons and moved on. And Iran is nowhere near as confrontational, especially in its missile testing, as North Korea was. That was basically the main gripe people had with North Korea. Hey! Stop launching ICBM’s over our heads!

      • Garga

        I hope they don’t push Iran to the point we renege on our word regarding nuclear weapons. It will take a lot of pushing and maybe even the use of this kind of weapon on us to force Iran to do that.
        In that case we’ll look like a bunch of morons if we keep our word.

        • Barba_Papa

          Personally I think you guys already look like a bunch of morons for having kept your word. What has it gotten you? The US broke its word and piles sanctions upon sanctions upon you and the Europeans stand by and do fuck all to help you, even though they still urge you to abide by the agreement. Might as well have pushed on and gotten nukes already. At least you’d now be in the Don’t Mess With Us Or You’ll Glow In The Dark club. Eventually like with Pakistan and North Korea the West will move on and find another country to dick around with.

          By the way, I was in Iran last month. I had a great time as always. But man have things gotten more expensive since my last visit in 2014. And the exchange rate has dropped. In 2014 I exchanged €300 and got 4,5 million rials, now I exchanged €150 and got 45 million rials. I felt like being part of the 1%.

  • hvaiallverden

    The thing is, reality sucks, dont it.
    Just hours ago, the theater of aburditys ad infinitum continues, with more nonsense, coming from, Germs, the pathetic f…. Brits and a French lap dog aka MaCrony drooling something about Iran did it, or more precise, eh…… highly lightly or like the wankees say, we are confident they did it, proofs, whom the f…. cares about proofs in the times where an 15 year old eCON Missias is howling something about raining Fire and Brimstones, we are going to hell, next friday, and the congregation is wipped out to drool ever more about the second scam of the century, apart from the so called MMT ( modern monetary theory, equally dead certain as eh…. gravity) is the staggering bullshit spraying of the latest MSM/Polticians/CorpoRats created AGW, where even that is chought in cycles, 50 years ago, we where heading for an clobal winter, aka an ice age, but now, we are boiling, yeah, and Al-Gordia stil lives in His condue down by the sea side, laughing al the way to the bank.
    Dunka dunka, suckers are born every minute, yeah, I finaly get that one.

    Yeah, UssA is undressed and cornered, but naked and out of tuch, not that this is something new, its just that they are chought in an dead spirall, and as cornered animals, its then they are at their most unpredictablle and dangerous moment, what will this insane scums do next, so nothing is out of the equation, yet, to war or not to war.
    AGW is like explaining some basic facts, take Banking, an not on an paper, given to banks whom can legaly create mooney out of thin air, witch you have to obtain to buy an house, and pay usury on the same note, where as the fact is, its stil just an piece of paper, and the next phace is even more facination, that this piece of paper can by an waving of an wand, fractionalise to me multiplyed up to 9 times, so if you get an loan on 100000 they get, from the same source, aka thin air, a paper witch says they have now, obtained because you have to go to them by law, 900000, and stil you have to pay intress, its called fractional banking.
    SO my next question to the AGW genuises and other high IQ f….. is this bullshit or not.
    I was kicked out of everything decades ago, because we where few, that ripped the AGW scam to shreads, and stil I can debate them anywhere, but since the cencure uh…. culture is even worse now than an decade ago, its becoming impossible, the religious dooms day cult is everywhere this days.
    I have few intresses, apart from living as normal as I can, and take care of my family/friends, but I am fluent in some areas, and physicls/history is one of my few areas of intresses, and to then give you an hint, about the number 97%, witch is as credible as an 100% increase, witch could mean, 1 to 2 in an range of 100000000, its stil, despite just going from 1 to 2, an 100% increase, huh, drooling idiots, the number 97% is somewhere about 94 persons, thats it, not thousands, or hundreds of thousands sicientists, no, just under an hundred, where as all moust 30 000 real scientists have singed an paper that states AGW is just bollocks, period, polution, hell yeah, I am all in, from chemicals/pesticides/GOMs, aka Bayer etc, to bottom trawling, but CO2, give me an f…break.
    And Quantum uh….. buckets of transistores, yeah, the Chines have already done teleportation, I think they did it some years ago, not matter, but information, from A to B and that, is also made physical in another case where they made an fridge, work, where only information was moved, nothing else, do you get that, phsyics have been dead stil for milleniums, and have just reasently moved, eh…. a tiny bit.
    Free energy, the solution is old, infact an Serbian, N. Telsa, one of the few real gigants humanity have produced, instead of doing the right thing, we end up whining about my diesel.

    Yeah, and thats why I like Bismark, have comed to the briliant conclusion, the more time spent with humans, the greater is my respect for my cats/animals, they are atleast intellegent.
    Anytime, morons, anytime, if you have the balls.
    And before you even try, read the bloody Paris decleration first, if not, dont bother, for your own sake.
    And to be the devils advocate, so far, despite the rethoric, I hope Trump have the balls to do the thing most Americans wanted, bring the war machine home and make america great again.
    Blessed be the peacemakers.
    Have an nice day.

    peace

  • Boycott-Israel!

    United Snakes does not have any credibility whatsoever, except in supporting terrorism.

    • Boycott-Saudi!!!

      Totally agree with you.

  • d’Artagnan

    US, UK and France have been hemorrhaging money and lives from the inept, corrupt and destructive Wahhabi regimes for almost a century now. They have forced them to buy trillions in worthless weapons, encouraged Salafist terrorism and create unnecessary bogeymen like Iran now and USSR before. The Saudis are special kind of stupid and have bought the US disingenuous lies hook, line and sinker. Mostly sinker as the faulty patriots have amply demonstrated.

    • Boycott-Saudi!!!

      No surprises as saudi were another bastard child of British empire.

  • verner

    well, I guess erdogan is quite pleased he opted for the russian s-400 and so did modi of india. If I remember correctly uae has been there taking a look at the s-400 as well and even saudi at one stage said they were contemplating the s-400. and meanwhile lookheed has stashed away zillions in profits and dividends for something which seems rather useless after the latest debacle a la unhinged states of A which can’t do much else than maintain a stony face and deny any claims of refunding from the buyers -like with boeing and the 737 max plane. wonder what will come up next from the unhinged states of A as being of inferior capacity or quality. I mean roundup is already declared a fucked up cancerogenic product that they managed to push on the stupid germans in Bayer (which is a remnant of IG Farben of Zyclon B fame) so the damages for all them cases in the unhinged states of A will end up in europe (reminds me of Lloyds of london and the asbestos cases which more or less ruined the insurer in the 80s).