Precision attack on Saudi oil facility seen as part of dangerous new pattern

The Japan Times

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – The assault on the beating heart of Saudi Arabia's vast oil empire follows a new and dangerous pattern that's emerged across the Persian Gulf this summer of precise attacks that leave few obvious clues as to who launched them. Beginning in May with the still-unclaimed explosions that damaged oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, the region has seen its energy infrastructure repeatedly targeted. Those attacks culminated with Saturday's assault on the world's biggest oil processor in eastern Saudi Arabia, which halved the oil-rich kingdom's production and caused energy prices to spike. Some strikes have been claimed by Yemen's Houthi rebels, who have been battling a Saudi-led coalition in the Arab world's poorest country since 2015. Their rapidly increasing sophistication fuels suspicion among experts and analysts however that Iran may be orchestrating them -- or perhaps even carrying them out itself as the U.S. alleges in the case of Saturday's attack.


U.S. Navy reports another close call with Iran drone

The Japan Times

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – An unarmed Iranian drone shadowed a U.S. aircraft carrier at night and came close enough to F-18 fighter jets to put the lives of American pilots at risk, the Navy said Tuesday, reporting the second such tense encounter within a week. The Iranian Sadegh drone flew without any warning lights during the encounter Sunday night with the USS Nimitz, said Lt. Ian McConnaughey, a spokesman for the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet. The drone did not respond to repeated calls over the radio and came within 1,000 feet (300 meters) of U.S. fighters, he said. That "created a dangerous situation with the potential for collision and is not in keeping with international maritime customs and laws," McConnaughey said in a statement. The drone was unarmed, the lieutenant said, though that model can carry missiles.


Saudis say they don't want war with Iran but will defend themselves

The Japan Times

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - Saudi Arabia does not want war but will not hesitate to defend itself against Iran, a top Saudi diplomat said Sunday, after the kingdom's energy sector was targeted this past week amid heightened tensions in the Persian Gulf. On Sunday night, a rocket crashed in the Iraqi capital's heavily fortified Green Zone, landing less than a mile from the U.S. Embassy, further stoking tensions. No casualties were reported in the apparent attack. Adel al-Jubeir, the minister of state for foreign affairs, spoke a week after four oil tankers-- two of them Saudi-- were targeted in an alleged act of sabotage off the coast of the United Arab Emirates and days after Iran-allied Yemeni rebels claimed a drone attack on a Saudi oil pipeline. "The kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not want war in the region and does not strive for that … but at the same time, if the other side chooses war, the kingdom will fight this with all force and determination and it will defend itself, its citizens and its interests," al-Jubeir told reporters.


Outgunned Iran takes on U.S. with 'asymmetric' strategy of missiles, drones and militia allies

The Japan Times

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – Iran's launching of more than a dozen missiles at American-led forces in Iraq on Wednesday came after years of preparing for a confrontation with its superpower foe, whose forces are vastly larger and more advanced. The Persian Gulf country has more than 500,000 active-duty personnel, including 125,000 members of its elite Revolutionary Guard, according to a report last year by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. But international sanctions and restrictions on arms imports have made it hard for Iran to develop or buy more sophisticated weaponry. To compensate for the imbalance, Iran has developed "asymmetric" responses -- ballistic missiles, deadly drones and a web of militia allies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, among other things -- with the aim of being able to inflict pain while avoiding the traditional battlefield. "From a conventional military perspective, they would get absolutely hammered," said a British former military commander who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.


New questions emerge after Iran belatedly admits to downing Ukraine airliner

The Japan Times

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – Iran's acknowledgement that it shot down a Ukrainian airliner, killing 176 people, raises new challenges for the Islamic Republic both externally amid tensions with the U.S. and internally as it deals with growing discontent from its people. The country did itself no favors by having its air-crash investigators, government officials and diplomats deny for days that a missile downed the flight, though a commander said Saturday that he had raised that possibility to his superiors as early as Wednesday, the day of the crash. While its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard took responsibility, the same commander claimed it warned Tehran to close off its airspace amid fears of U.S. retaliation over Iran launching ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces. That retaliation never came, but the worries proved to be enough to allegedly scare a missile battery into opening fire on the Boeing 737 operated by Ukrainian International Airlines. Wider tensions between Iran and the U.S., inflamed after Iran's top general was killed in Iraq by a U.S. drone strike on Jan. 3, have for the moment calmed.