How the Iranians Did It

by Stephen Bryen

Iran successfully attacked two oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, not the Houthis. The Iranians attack looks like it came from two different launch sites: the drones were launched from Iraq and the cruise missiles, known as Quds-1 were launched from Iran, near the border with Iraq. There were some 22 fired (both drones which probably were Ababil 2/T type and Quds-1) of which 19 hit their targets, with precision high enough to hit large oil tanks all roughly in the same spot.

Video of Quds-1 and Ababil recovered after attack in Saudi Arabia (in Arabic)

The high precision has amazed US Pentagon analysts. They do not understand how that could be done from such a long distance and beyond the communications capabilities of even the Quds-1.

The American Tomahawk can achieve similar accuracy, but it requires very sophisticated terrain following and scene-matching electronics plus GPS. The “scenes” are assembled ahead of time and programmed into the computer memory of the Tomahawk. The flight path is predetermined and the scene matching provides the final guidance.

It is very unlikely that the Quds-1 has such accuracy. It is also unlikely that the Ababil drone can scene match or be controlled from very far away.

Of course we will know more when the US completes its exploitation of two crashed Quds missiles that were recovered from the attack.

But my bet is that the accuracy was managed in an entirely different manner.

This is the “Houthi version” of the Quds-1 cruise missile. The rear section, with the articulated fins, is a rocket motor to launch the missile. The engine on the dorsal top isa Czech turbine engine for sustained flight.

I think Saudi Arabia was infiltrated by well-trained operators who were close to the targets and were able to guide the terminal phase of the attacking cruise missiles (and maybe the drones) via video transmitted from the missiles and drones.

The drones raise a different question, and it is highly doubtful they were the cause of the tanker strikes. What is known of the Ababil is that its warhead is a high explosive stuffed with ball bearings. It would have exploded on contact and made a mess. The Quds-1, on the other hand could have a penetration-type warhead like an RPG, but maybe without the explosive. Take note that the satellite photos we have shows no fire on the tanks that were hit. Why not? Maybe because the idea was to blow some holes in the tanks to show what could happen –a demonstration aimed as much at the United States as at Saudi Arabia. In fact, while we are making bets I will bet this attack had nothing whatever to do with the Houthis. They were the plausible deniability Iran thought it needed. This attack was aimed at humiliating the United States.

Full Saudi briefing on attack with imagery of the attack “from the north”

It is, for example, no surprise that Putin almost immediately offered Saudi Arabia the S-400 missile to replace the failed American Patriot air defense system. He was, at the same time, rubbing salt in the American-Saudi wound.

It would have taken months to prepare this kind of attack, not days. The drones would have to be prepared and smuggled into Iraq. The Quds1 cruise missiles would need to be moved close to the border. The agents in the field would need to be trained and moved into Saudi Arabia. An operation like this would be an organizational and operational challenge and the Iranians proved competent.

Nothing good can be said about the air defense system in Saudi Arabia, which is based primarily on the US Patriot system. It never activated in this attack, meaning that it has poor coverage of the Kingdom.

The recent attack did not exactly come out of the blue. Last May 14th an attack against a Saudi pipeline was launched from southern Iraq. The Kingdom and the US should have been prepared for more, but were not.

US intelligence was appallingly bad, which is putting it mildly. This is an intelligence failure on the order of the failure in 9/11. Exactly why America and Saudi Arabia were so blind-sided is a question that needs answers.

Iran is trying to get rid of US sanctions and their approach is to try and humiliate the United States. Chances are there is more trouble brewing ahead. Are we prepared?



On Monday, September 16th I gave an interview on the program “Beyond the Matrix” on Israel Talk Radio.

The interview goes into considerable depth on the strategic implications of the attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities and the consequences in the Middle East for the Kingdom and also for the United States. You can listen to the broadcast below.