Saudis Deploy Military in the Eastern Oil Regions in Anticipation of Iranian Strikes
Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal told Al-Arabiya television last week that the Saudi government takes Iran's threats seriously. He pointed in particular to the words of Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, who warned that Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi's promise to boost oil production by 2.7 million barrels a day (bpd) to make up for any shortfall caused by sanctions on Iran, would "create all possible problems later."
Prince Turki said he personally did not believe the oil kingdom would engage in military action but added:
"It's a direct threat to our national interests and a direct threat to our industrial installations on the coast."
Other Saudi officials in Riyadh were less diplomatic: "Iran's threats could be interpreted by Saudi Arabia as an act of war," said a senior Saudi defense official bluntly.
This week, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources report, Saudi Arabia began deploying its military in the kingdom's oil regions in the east opposite the Persian Gulf.
Patriot PAC-2 and PAC-3 intercept missile batteries were installed around the oil fields and oil terminals; Saudi special forces stationed around the kingdom's main export terminal at Ras Tanura; and special marine and naval forces trained to defend the installations began conducting sea patrols off shore.
Saudi armored forces were furthermore stationed at the main junctions of the pipelines and pumping stations and its air force and navy put on a state of alert.
While the whole world talked about Iran's threat to close the Strait of Hormuz in response to an embargo on its oil exports, the Saudis were far more concerned with the reality of the second half of that threat: They are certain that the menace of an Iranian strike at Saudi oil targets will loom ever larger as US-European sanctions bite deeper into Iran's oil sales and Riyadh steps up its oil production to make up for the Iranian shortfall.
Tehran resorts to smuggling after its oil sales shrink
The Saudis envision a panoply of aggressive Iranian operations: Missiles striking their oil fields and export terminals – aimed from speedboats zooming up close to target and launched from small unpopulated Persian Gulf islands occupied for the purpose by especially trained Iranian units.
Iranian frogmen may come ashore to sabotage oil installations and pipelines; kamikaze pilots crash their planes into the oil tankers; and booby-trapped speedboats piloted by suicide attackers try to ram oil installations or tankers.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Gulf sources report that Riyadh challenges assessments in the West and Israel that the oil embargo has not yet touched Iran. According to Saudi figures, Tehran is already losing buyers and its regular export volume of around 2.5 million barrels a day has dropped by 15-20 percent.
To make up the difference, says Riyadh, the Iranians have in recent weeks set in motion a major enterprise for smuggling their oil out to market through certain Persian Gulf countries.
They are using large and medium sized oil tankers without flags or identifying markings to drop anchor in Gulf ports, most frequently in Abu Dhabi and Oman. Shrewd traders specializing in the sale of smuggled oil then purchase quantities of crude with cash and transport it to various buyers who don't ask questions about its provenance.
This week, Saudi officials, accompanied by oil, security and intelligence experts, visited Abu Dhabi and Oman and asked the authorities there to put a stop to Iranian oil smuggling. But Riyadh understands that its effort to dry up the Iranian oil smuggling machine may bring Tehran still closer to a decision to go on the offensive against Saudi Arabia.