Update2: Despite US officials repeatedly over the weekend claiming they were "certain" attacks came from Iraqi soil, likely from Iran-backed militias acting as proxies, they've now changed their tune to line up behind the latest Saudi military assessment.
US officials have told FOX that the attacks originated from Iranian soil, which is the first time such a direct charge has been issued since the early Saturday morning crisis.
BREAKING: US Officials tell Fox News (after ABC) that attack on Aramco #Saudi came from #Iran soil / territory.— Joyce Karam (@Joyce_Karam) September 16, 2019
If true, this is a whole different situation now. Raises stakes of response, culpability. Pompeo expected to release more evidence https://t.co/2giQ25ydki
Meanwhile in this rapidly changing who dunnit narrative, one key piece of recent history should not be forgotten after the Saudis announced Monday their belief that "Iranian weapons" were behind the attack, based on an initial investigation:
Saudi regime also said Khashoggi left the consulate in Istanbul pic.twitter.com/bpoiOPsn6V— Paul Gottinger (@PaulGottinger) September 16, 2019
However, the coming hours will be interesting given a Saudi coalition spokesman said photos will soon be released proving the US-Saudi position which points the finger at Iran. Mike Pompeo is also said to be prepping a report which gives a US assessment of the evidence.
And still awkwardly amid all these claims and counterclaims (after both Iran and Iraq have vehemently denied having any involvement), Yemen's Houthis have consistently and firmly admitted responsibility with no change in their original narrative.
Iran: We didn't do it.— Sven Henrich (@NorthmanTrader) September 16, 2019
Yemen’s Houthis: We did it
US: Iran did it.
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Update: It's official — after Trump over the weekend put the ball squarely in the Saudis' court, saying the US was "waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!" — Saudi Arabia has responded by saying it was indeed Iran, confirming that "Iranian weapons" were used to attack its oil facilities.
After the US apparently ruled out Iraq as a launching pad on Monday, following Baghdad's firm denial, it looks like Riyadh appears to be pointing to a potential direct cruise missile or drone attack from Iran.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi military spokesman says initial investigation suggests 'Iranian weapons' used in oil installation attack.— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) September 16, 2019
An official military statement pointed to "Iranian weapons" but stopped short of naming the Islamic Republic as directly conducting the attack.
Saudi military spokesman Turki al-maliki futher said the preliminary investation suggests the attack "was not launched from Yemen," backing prior US statements.
*U.S. Tells #Saudi Arabia that Oil Attacks Launched by Iran -- Sources— Summer Said (@summer_said) September 16, 2019
*U.S. Rules Out Iraq as Launching Pad for Saudi Oil Attacks -- #Iraqi, U.S. Officials.
*Pompeo Calling Regional Leaders, Expected to Speak to UAE Crown Prince Monday -- Sources #OOTT #Iran #OPEC
As expected, things are escalating fast and the ball is back in Trump's court - he could be preparing to this time follow up on prior threats of being "locked and loaded".
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While US officials were quick out of the gate to allege an Iranian attack on Saudi Aramco facilities launched from Iraq early Saturday, a theory which the WSJ said was focus of an ongoing US-Saudi investigation, Iraq's government issued a firm denial on Sunday, which followed Iran's own denial that condemned Washington's "maximum lies".
Saying there was no link to Iraqi soil and the attack which caused oil prices to spike to record levels the moment markets opened, initially surging to as much as 18% before retreating after President Trump authorized use of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to "keep the markets well-supplied," the Iraqi government further vowed to “punish anyone who intended to use Iraq as a launchpad for attacks in the region.”
Despite Yemen's Houthis themselves claiming responsibility for the precision strike using ten drones, unleashing explosions that rocked Abqaiq facility and the Khurais field, US officials have long eyed Iraq's Shia paramilitary forces also as bad actors which Iran deploys as proxies from Iraqi soil.
Prior reports suggest Iran has indeed stationed ballistic missiles on Iraqi soil within the past year or so, within easy targeting range of key Saudi oil installations, as well as even Tel Aviv.
But crucially the Houthis have defiantly announced it's not over: "The rebel group said its weapons could reach anywhere in Saudi Arabia. Saturday’s strikes were carried out by aircraft equipped with a new type of engine, the Houthi rebel group said," Bloomberg reports.
Seems to undermine a primary argument from US gov/media that Houthis dont have the capacity to pull this off, therefore it must have been Iran. https://t.co/wPyeGzDJRH— Ali Ahmadi (@AliAhmadi_Iran) September 16, 2019
“We assure the Saudi regime that our long hand can reach wherever we want, and whenever we want,” Houthi spokesman Yahya Saree said. The statement added threateningly:
“We warn companies and foreigners not to be present in the facilities that were hit in the strikes because they are still within range and may be targeted at any moment.”
Meanwhile, the official US position still seems to be Mike Pompeo's sentiment expressed soon after the attack that there was "no evidence" it was carried out from Yemen.
US and Saudi officials, still amid an ongoing investigation, told reporters over the weekend they are "certain" the attack actually originated from Iraq, especially as the debris and precision targeting show a level of "sophistication" which would link it to Iran's elite IRGC.
This as Trump said the U.S. is “locked and loaded depending on verification” of the source of the attack.
Of course there remains the possibility that the Houthis will again "prove" their capabilities by simply launching another devastating attack.