Sunday, February 27, 2011
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia — Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) attacked vital Saudi Arabian oil infrastructure today in a move analysts fear will escalate the growing conflict in the Persian Gulf and further deepen the worldwide oil crisis.
Several Iranian surface-to-surface missiles struck the Saudi Arabian oil processing facility at Abqaiq at approximately 3:30 a.m. Iranian authorities claimed the strike was in retaliation for Saudi Arabia granting the Israeli Air Force (IAF) permission to cross through its airspace en route to bombing Iranian nuclear facilities two weeks ago.
“They committed an act of war in aiding the Zionist attack and we have responded,” said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Israeli officials report that 11 civilians were killed and 42 injured after four more Iranian Shahab-3 missiles struck southern Israel in the hours following the attack on Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, more details have emerged about the Israeli attacks on Iranian nuclear sites that sparked the widening regional conflict.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has confirmed that he ordered the IAF strike against facilities in Arak, Natanz and Isfahan, claiming that “sanctions have proven ineffective and an Iranian bomb was within reach. We cannot wait for the international community to deal with this rogue nuclear state through diplomatic channels. Israel must defend herself.” It remains unclear whether President Obama supported the Israeli strike, or if the country acted without express US support.
Today’s missile strikes come one week after Mr. Ahmadinejad announced the closure of the Strait of Hormuz, fulfilling a long-held Iranian promise to employ oil as a weapon if attacked.
In response to what he called “American collusion with Israeli aggression,” Mr. Ahmadinejad ordered the IRGC to enforce a blockade of the narrow waterway where 90 percent of Gulf oil shipments must pass within 12 miles of the Persian coast.
On the command of US Naval authorities, a Kuwaiti oil tanker, the Tulkarem, attempted to break the blockade on February 22. Shortly after the ship entered the Strait, an IRGC surface-to-sea missile fired from the Iranian coast pierced the Tulkarem’s hull, releasing tens of thousands of barrels of crude oil and engulfing the tanker in flames. Kuwaiti officials have yet to release an official death toll.
Responding to the attack on the Tulkarem, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen called the situation “unacceptable,” adding “the United States will not allow Iran to hold the world’s oil supplies hostage.”
Following Admiral Mullen’s comments, the US Navy intervened and restored access to the vital passage after three days of intensive bombardment of the Iranian coast.
Security experts agree that today’s attack on Abqaiq represents a far more serious act than the blockade of Hormuz. Several analysts have predicted that the US and Israel will launch strikes against IRGC bases in Tehran, escalating the conflict and driving global oil prices to previously unseen levels. Crude prices began climbing rapidly following news of the Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear sites on February 13. And as word of today’s attack spread through global commodity markets, the price of oil shot to just under $300 a barrel.
Robert Baer, a former CIA case officer in the Middle East, predicts the rising price of oil will have immediate and disastrous effects throughout the developing world. “At $300 a barrel we will see true misery in the third world,” Mr. Baer said. While the price of basic goods has become high in the West, Baer fears that those goods will become unobtainable to hundreds of millions of the world’s poor.
“This is a very dangerous perfect storm,” he added.
Rioting has already been reported in parts of the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. Military officials have declared their intent to intervene if civilian governments fail to stem the unrest.
There are now fears that the stability of American-backed secular regimes across the Middle East may be at risk. The first fissures are appearing in Cairo where Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s security forces have begun firing on mass demonstrations initiated and led by the Muslim Brotherhood.