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Attacks on Abqaiq and Khurais, Continued

There has been a lot of back-and-forth in the Saudi press about what’s happening with respect to Abqaiq and Iran, although coverage has understandably focused more on Aramco claims of swiftly restoring production than concerns that it will take considerable time to fully repair the severe damage to facilities. This in turn has led some commentators to weigh the company’s success in restoring production (and revenue) against concerns that perhaps the limited disruption of the global economy meant few nations would feel the need to intervene in the Gulf.

Aramco has claimed that it has built in redundancies/backup capabilities to deal with such situations. From the speed with which fires were put out to already bringing 50% of capabilities back on stream with the rest coming in weeks, Aramco has been proven to be true to its word — Ali Shihabi (@aliShihabi) September 20, 2019

All Saudi needs to do at the next attack is close down ALL operations for a while for "maintenance" and oil will jump to $300. In a way Aramco's speed getting back on its feet feeds a sense of dangerous complacency among Western policymakers and global markets. — Ali Shihabi (@aliShihabi) September 22, 2019

Abdelrahman al Rashed felt the need to address this kind of conspiracy theorizing in a recent column for Asharq al-Aawsat.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about Washington? Could it be involved, to expand the circle of fear in the Gulf and increase its arms sales? Conspiracy theories usually struggle against simple logic. Washington has no interest in supporting an attack that cripples half of Saudi production, because it raises prices, weakening the US economy, and threatens President Trump’s chances of election. Abdelrahman Al-Rashed, Al-Sharq al-Awsat, 9.23.2019

Conspiracy theories suggesting that Israel or the United States were behind the attacks have circulated, occasionally cropping up in op-ed references.

Elsewhere, some individuals who typically comment on American affairs, such as Ahmed al-Farraj, focused on analyzing President Trump’s decision-making regarding the situation. For context, Farraj argued prior to the 2018 mid-term elections that Trump calling Jeff Sessions a “dumb Southerner” would cost him support in the South, given the “inferiority complex of Southerners towards the “industrial North.”

[A]fter the statements made by President Trump about it, the opponents of the Kingdom ran with them. They implied that America no longer needs the Kingdom’s oil, and therefore no longer cares about the Gulf region. Ahmed al-Farraj, Al-Jazirah, 9.24.2019
He also fears that if he hit Iran, even if it is a limited and surgical strike, the region will ignite an all-out war, which could cause him to lose the re-election battle. The bottom line is that Trump initially treated Iran as a hawk, relying on flawed assumptions. After Iran dared to openly challenge this position… he decided to turn into a “dove” temporarily, pending the end of the re-election battle… Ahmed al-Farraj, Al-Jazirah, 9.26.2019

Most recently, after speeches made at the United Nations General Assembly, some of the Kingdom’s more gung-ho commentators have been quick to announce victory with respect to the Kingdom’s approach of “strategic patience.” These perspectives generally argued that the recent attacks had united global public opinion against Iran, particularly in Europe, and that it was only a matter of time before the regime caved.

Whatever the Iranian choice, it is clear that this terrorist regime has reached a level of aggressive behavior in the face of which the world cannot remain silent. The time of reckoning has come, and it is no exaggeration to say that velayat-e-faqih is close to the end of its aggressive policy, and perhaps the end of the system itself. Al-Riyadh editorial, 9.26.2019
Always and everywhere they fight through proxies, and never directly. The indicators of their aggression on Abqaiq and Khurais suggest that if things develop and they enter into a direct war, then they do not have the means of military victory. They have an army without air power at all, except those drones and ballistic missiles from which they have thrown at us in their hundreds through the Houthis and did not have a military impact of value. I have no doubt that Saudi diplomacy’s smart and balanced approach to the Abqaiq attack and the sincere position of the mullahs in the corner, and made them abandon their antics and arrogance and acquiesce to reality. Muhammad Al Sheikh, Al-Jazirah, 9.27.2019

To sum up the present course of action, as one Saudi friend put it to me – war would be catastrophic, we can afford costs like the Abqaiq attacks at present, the sanctions are working, we will win eventually. That view has not been shared by everybody I chat with here, several of whom have worried that the Kingdom is effectively surrounded by Iranian-backed or -linked actors and that Saudi Arabia has limited options in defending against or responding to Iranian asymmetric capabilities.

Moment of Zen

A Saudi television program went asking children in a mall “Where does Saudi Arabia fall [on the map]?”

Replied one child: “Saudi Arabia will not fall.”

حب الوطن فطرة عند ذوي العقول السليمة. أين تقع السعودية؟ — عبدالرحمن محسن النمري (@Eng_Nimri) September 25, 2019
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