Lt Col Turki al-Maliki displays pieces of what he said were Iranian cruise missiles and drones recovered from the attack site. Photograph: Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images
Saudi Arabia has ramped up the pressure on Donald Trump to respond to a devastating strike on two major oil installations, displaying drone and missile technology it insisted showed the attack was “unquestionably sponsored by Iran”.
At a press conference in Riyadh a Saudi defence spokesman claimed that 25 drones and cruise missiles were used in the attack on the Aramco facilities on Saturday, saying repeatedly they had been fired from the north, the direction of Iran.
Asked for his response, Trump said “We know very much what happened” but argued that it was “a sign of strength” that he has thus far taken no military action against Iran.
“How did going into Iraq work out?” Trump asked, before voicing support for a UN investigation into Saturday’s attack.
“I’ve always felt the United Nations is very important,” the president said. The UN secretary general, António Guterres, confirmed on Wednesday that an international team of experts was on the way to Saudi Arabia to investigate.
Trump put the emphasis on further sanctions on Iran, tweeting on Wednesday morning that he had instructed the US treasury to “substantially increase” sanctions. He later told reporters he would provide details within the next 48 hours.
The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, arrived in Jeddah on Wednesday to confer with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, on a coordinated response.
“We are working to build a coalition to develop a plan to deter them. This is what needs to happen. This is an attack on a scale that we’ve just not seen before,” Pompeo told journalists.
The Saudi press conference came on a day when:
- President Hassan Rouhani of Iran insisted the attack had been carried out by Houthi rebels in Yemen, and threatened to respond to any US military attacks.
- The Houthis held their own press conference to substantiate their claim of responsibility.
- And Trump discussed the crisis by phone with Boris Johnson, agreeing on “the need for a united diplomatic response”, according to No 10.
At the Saudi press conference, Lt Col Turki al-Maliki said the country was still working to identify the precise launch point of the attack, but claimed the debris and data technology was of Iranian origin, and promised to share all the evidence with the UN and Saudi’s allies.
He also repeatedly asserted it was the responsibility of the whole international community to respond, saying: “Iran’s continued aggression and continued support for militia groups harms us all.”
He said Saudi Arabia had recently intercepted 282 ballistic missiles and 258 UAVs or drones. The bulk of these are likely to have come from Yemen.
He added: “The cruise missiles used were of advanced capability, we have the date of the manufacture which is 2019 – Iran’s IRGC has this type of weaponry – all the evidence that we have gathered from the site proves that Iran’s weaponry was used in the attack.”
The cruise missile could not reach the oil facilities if they had been fired from Yemen, he said.
But despite the display of fallen ordnance, the Saudis have clearly not yet been able to make an unanswerable case that Iran was directly involved. At one point Al-Maliki said the missiles may have come from Yemen’s Houthi rebels, as Iran and the Houthis themselves assert.
The show of weaponry came as the Saudi deputy defence minister, Khalid bin Salman, lavished praise on the US administration for confronting “the Iranian regime’s and terrorist organisations’ aggression in an unprecedented way”.
But he also pointedly reminded the US that Barack Obama had committed the US in 2015 to an unequivocal policy “to use all elements of power to secure our core interests in the Gulf region and confront external aggression against our partners and our allies, as we did in the Gulf war”.
Former Obama administration officials say this did not amount to a treaty, but a unilateral statement of US policy.
So far Trump has proved reluctant to use force to rein in Iran, although the US Treasury has been mounting an ever more exhaustive regime of sanctions on the country since the US pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal last year.
US officials have reportedly presented a range of military responses to the president, prompting a formal written warning to Washington from Tehran that any US attack would lead to broader military retaliation.
Trump is aware he would need a coalition of domestic and foreign political support for any strike on Iran – and that requires providing evidence that the attack was mounted, or coordinated by Iran, and not by Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The Houthis staged their own press conference in which army spokesman Brig Gen Yahya Serie tried to substantiate their claim of responsibility for the attack. He said the weapons that targeted Aramco were Qasif K-2 cruise missiles and Samad 3 drones possessing a range of 1,700km (1,050 miles), and were launched from three sites and timed to reach their targets from different angles simultaneously.
Versions of these weapons were displayed by the Houthis at a small arms exhibition on 7 July, but their true capability is unknown.Timeline
Earlier, Iranian president said US claims that Tehran was involved in the attack on Saudi Arabian petroleum facilities were part of Washington’s continuing campaign to isolate Iran.
In a defiant video address, Rouhani insisted the attack had been mounted by the Houthis, and blamed Saudi Arabia for starting the four-year war there.
Rouhani said the Houthis attacked Saudi oil facilities at the weekend as a “warning” after attacks on hospitals, schools and markets in Yemen which have been blamed on the Saudi-led coalition.
Saudi Arabaia has urged foreign countries to join the investigation into the culprits, and announced on Wednesday that it was joining the US-led maritime security force operating in the Gulf.
So far European countries, as well as Saudi’s closest regional ally, the United Arab Emirates, have condemned the attack but are yet to attribute responsibility.
Saudi news agencies reported that the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, rang the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
Johnson and Trump also discussed the crisis by phone on Wednesday, and according to Downing Street discussed “the need for a united diplomatic response from international partners. They also spoke about Iran and agreed that they must not be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon”.
Saudi, criticised for its role in the war in Yemen and losing support on Capitol Hill, appears determined to try to build an international coalition to mete out some form of punishment to Iran and does not want to be left isolated in the event of a military confrontation with Tehran.
Source: Daily Post