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The Eye of the Storm – Abqaiq and Khurais

Kurais oil facility, one of two sites hit by attacks last weekend, in 2017 (Source: Planet Labs, Inc.)

Given the demands of other work I don’t have time to cover the Saudi media scene at present in depth – suffice to say that coverage of the (almost certainly but not conclusively Iranian-backed) attacks on oil facilities at Abqaiq seems somewhat muted from inside the Kingdom, and there being less of a tense atmosphere here as a result, but this could just be the result of me being quite busy!

With news of the attacks still becoming clear over the course of the weekend, only a few columnists managed to get off a full article in time for a Saturday evening deadline. Khalid al-Suleiman wrote about the need for a sharp response to the “Iranian Postman” who had sent the attacks on Saudi oil facilities:

The Iranians and their postmen should realize that the Saudi response can reach them from any direction and I any place. States that allow themselves to become post offices for distributing Iranian mail should take up the burden of sovereignty and secure their borders with the Kingdom… Khalid Suleiman, Okaz, 9.15.2019

Given the confusion surrounding the initial incident, with many Saudi accounts either sharing videos of the attack or warning others not to, some commentators warned that the lack of clear information could give rise to active efforts at misinformation.

Because we live surrounded by war, this reality needs to an official media which citizens can rely[to cover] any event… If it is absent, then there are media working against us who will take advantage of the opportunity to fill the void. Abdu Khal, Okaz, 9.16.2019

At the same time, Saudi officials and media provided a fairly consistent message from the outset of the crisis – that Saudi oil supplies are critical to the global economy, and that every country has an interest in deterring Iranian efforts to disrupt the energy supply.

It is not surprising that the Minister of Energy, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, called on the international community to play its role in guarding the energy supply against all terrorist organizations that carry out, support and finance such cowardly acts of sabotage. It should be dealt with at the highest level, with input from all countries. All should be certain that the security of the Kingdom in general, and the its oil facilities in particular, is an integral part of global security, and that any attempts to target these facilities, they a blow to the international economy. Al-Riyadh Editorial, 9.17.2019
The massive attack on oil installations is not directed only at Saudi Arabia, but at the whole region and the world. It attempts to say that the world must accept Iran’s hegemony and decisions, and prepare for a new phase of Iranian hegemony in the region… Today the story is clear… Iran effectively manages Sanaa, Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut, and works to dominate the Gulf and the rest of the region. The options for confronting Tehran are few… But much more must be done to convince the countries of the region that the attack on Abqaiq is masterminded in Tehran… Abdel Rahman al-Rashed, Aawsat, 9.17.2019

In parallel to discussions in U.S. outlets about the value of U.S. security guarantees to the region, Okaz columnist Hamood Abu Taleb asserted that “We Have No Allies but Ourselves”:

We must know that we are now alone and we must act accordingly. Yesterday’s allies are no longer what they were, and their cheap blackmail [at a high price] while claiming that they will stand with us in crises is exposed. By “us,” we mean not only the Kingdom, but this Gulf bloc, which has so far survived the project of chaos and remained intact security-wise and economically, which is harassed and threatened through the largest and most important country [in the bloc]. Hamood Abu Talib, Okaz, 9.18.2019

The willingness of Iran to carry out such a major attack on the Kingdom drew calls for a clear and decisive response from commentators like Abdel Rahman Rashed of Asharq al-Aawsat:

It is difficult for the Western political mind to understand Iran, because it is seen as a state, a republic with a seat and flag at the United Nations, which is in fact nothing but a terrorist religious organization similar to Al Qaeda and ISIS… For years, Iran will continue to pose a threat to the security and stability of the world until everyone agrees to confront it. Abdel Rahman al-Rashed, Aawsat, 9.19.2019

More recently, however, discussion of a response to the attacks has focused less on the need for military aggression (although the Independent Arabia has reported on possible covert Saudi strikes on Iranian positions in Iraq, and the Saudi-led coalition has claimed to hit Houthi positions in Yemen) and more on the need for a “firm” international response to contain Iran.

The whole world condemned these terrorist attacks and blamed Iran. The Islamic Republic wanted to drag the region into an military confrontation of unknown cost, yet it is was very much disappointed. The response was not as emotional as much as it was wise, chosen careful yet building to seismic strength, under the umbrella of international consensus that provides no gaps where the Iranian regime can hide. Al-Riyadh Editorial, 9.20.2019
If the international community intends to curb Iran and stop its recklessness, there are more effective means than igniting a military confrontation. If that starts, God only knows how and when it ends, and what the consequences will be for the region and the world… If America stops fooling around and wants to remove the claws of Iran without war, it is able to do so. It can achieve this through understandings with other Western allies and partners with shared interests to achieve this, sparing the region from serious calamity. Hamood Abu Taleb, Okaz, 9.21.2019

This has even been the case from much of Saudi Arabia’s Twitter commentariat, whose most stridently nationalist members have focused largely on other targets such as Qatar, Turkey, and the Palestinian Authority in recent days. Much of their commentary regarding Yemen and the attack has entailed amplifying officials’ talking points or the results of press conferences.

Don’t let them provoke you on the issue of not responding to Iran militarily. What we do to Iran in terms of suffocating and blockading and acquiring market share has done much more damage than the loss of two weeks’ production! This does not mean that what happened has gone unnoticed. But everything is sweet in due time. Meshaal Khalidi, Saudi commentator

لا يستفزنكم احد بموضوع عدم الرد على ايران عسكريا. ما نفعله لإيران خنقا وحصارا واستحواذ على حصتها في السوق وقعه اكثر بكثير من خساره اسبوعين انتاج! هذا لا يعني ان يمر ما حدث مرور الكرام ابدا. لكن كل شيء بوقته حلو. — مشعل الخالدي (@meshaluk) September 17, 2019
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