Satellite images released by US officials on Sunday showed the extent of damage on Saudi Arabia's Abqaiq oil processing facility and at Khurais oil field. The images published on Sunday evening clearly show seventeen points of impact on key infrastructure, the US says.
Of note are four points of impact on liquefied petroleum gas storage tanks. This shows extreme precision on the part of the drones or cruise missiles used to strike the oil facilities. ABC News reported on Monday morning that officials now believe a dozen cruise missiles and 20 drones were involved in the attack. This attack is now so sophisticated that the ability of Yemen's Houthis to carry it out seems unlikely, despite their claim of responsibility. The Houthis are a key ally of Iran. The US has said there is no evidence the strike came from Yemen, which is more than 1,200km away. This means the strike was launched from much closer to the facilities.
Now US President Donald Trump says that Washington is awaiting word from Saudi Arabia and that the US is "locked and loaded." But the tensions that are rising in the Persian Gulf must be weighed against fears by US allies and the international community that the precision strikes are only the tip of the iceberg. The ability to launch 20 drones and a dozen missiles deep into Saudi territory, within 100km of US bases in Bahrain and elsewhere, is not only a massive escalation, but also means US forces could be targeted.
The developing nightmare for US policymakers and their allies is trying to thread the needle on how to respond. If they say they are "locked and loaded" but once again do not respond, as Trump refrained from doing in June after a US drone was shot down, then the bluff would have been called. But if they respond they risk a regional war stretching from the Gulf of Oman to Iraq and the Persian Gulf.
The US has blamed Iran for sabotaging six oil tankers, for mortars and rockets fired near US bases in Iraq and for the recent attack. In fact the US has now accused Iran of more than 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia. Now all eyes turn to the Kingdom to see how Riyadh will move.
Seth Frantzman, a writing fellow at the Middle East Forum, is the author of After ISIS: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East (2019), the op-ed editor of The Jerusalem Post, and a founder of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.