On Saturday, coordinated strikes on key Saudi Arabian oil facilities — among the world’s
largest energy production centers — disrupted 5% of the daily global oil supply
. Yemen’s Houthi rebels took responsibility for the attacks, but they are often backed by Iran.
A day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran for the attack on Saudi oil facilities and argued there is “no evidence the attacks came from Yemen,” a senior administration official briefed CNN on information to back up Pompeo’s claims.
Trump tweeted later Sunday that it is “incorrect” to say he is “willing to meet with Iran, ‘No Condition,'” a contradiction of his own administration. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday that the President
, “has said he would sit down with (Iranian President Hassan) Rouhani with no conditions.”
Points of impact
The official pointed to the angle at which Saudi oil facilities were attacked, the numbers of points of impact and other information to argue that it is unlikely the attacks were carried out by Yemen. Instead, the official suggested the attack most likely originated in Iran or Iraq.
“It is very difficult to see how these things could have come from anywhere but Iran or Iraq,” the senior administration official said.
The official said 19 Saudi targets were struck in Saturday’s attack and argued that such an attack could not be carried out with 10 drones, which the Houthis claimed to have used.
“You can’t hit 19 targets with 10 drones like that,” the official said.
The official, drawing on commercial satellite imagery shared with CNN, also noted that “all the points of impact on Saudi facilities were on the northwest side of them, which is somewhat difficult to do from Yemen.” The official could not say whether it’s possible drones from Yemen could have angled around to attack northwest facilities.
Military experts examine commercial satellite images
Three CNN military experts have examined the private satellite photos.
Ret. Col. Cedric Leighton, who is an intelligence expert with a focus in imagery, said the images do help support the Trump administration’s claim that the drones likely came from Iraq or Iran, but cautioned that they’re not definitive.
“This is the handiwork of a sophisticated (most likely State) actor. The precise nature of the intelligence used to conduct targeting, the mission planning that went into this to avoid radar detection, as well as the selection of the targets shows a robust capability that would most likely be the work of a government or government-sponsored group,” Leighton told CNN Sunday.
“The drones most likely originated in either Southern Iraq or Iran,” he said.
Ret. Gen. Mark Hertling said the images “really don’t show anything, other than pretty good accuracy on the strike of the oil tanks. Ret. Adm. John Kirby echoed this point, stating “there is nothing I see in these pictures which confirms a launch from any particular location.”
“I’m struck by the precision of the strikes. Almost pin-prick,” Kirby said. “Certainly possible with (unmanned aerial vehicles). But again, that doesn’t really confirm anything.”
Rouhani did not specifically reference the attack on the Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities in an address on Iran’s Press TV Sunday but did accuse Americans of running a “war operation” by “supporting the UAE and Saudi Arabia, transferring weapons, and providing intelligence.”
“What is happening in this region today has created concern among majority of world countries,” he said.
Earlier Sunday White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway said Trump has “many options on the table”
when it comes to responding to the strike on Saudi Arabia’s oil production this weekend.
“The President will always consider his options,” Conway said on “Fox News Sunday” when asked if Trump would still sit down with Rouhani under current circumstances. “We’ve never committed to that meeting at the United Nations General Assembly. The President’s just said he’s looking at it.”