All posts by Number9

Genocide in Northern Syria

The history of Turkey augurs genocide in northern Syria.

Prior to World War I, the Ottoman Empire was a true multicultural state. In a hardly modern arrangement, the tribes and ethnic groups were co-opted in a representational scheme. There is some similarity in the relationship between the Kremlin and Chechnya, though Ramzan Kadyrov would be a lot harder to replace than an Ottoman governor.

But the center, Istanbul, was weak. In World War I, the actual rulers of Turkey, the Three Pashas, allied with the Triple Alliance, which lost.  The empire fell prey to centrifugal forces exploited by Britain and France. It was dissected into artificial, unstable  states, deliberately incorporating antagonistic ethnic groups. This is the face of the modern Middle East.

The center of the former empire, modern Turkey, contained mostly ethnic Turks, but included Armenians and Kurds. The Three Pashas decided that having lost 90% of the real estate, the remainder would be exclusively Turkish. Armenians were a significant minority in the Turkish heartland, Anatolia.  Preceding the birth of modern Turkey under Kemal Ataturk, Turkey was in violent political flux. At the same time, a tide of dispossessed Muslim refugees from the north strained resources of the preindustrial state, when the primary asset was land. The Armenians lived vulnerably in the midst of this unstable society.

Three factors combined:

  • Ethnic hatred, or the desire for a mono-culture in what remained of Turkey.
  • Overcrowding by Muslim refugees.
  • Political expediency, as seen by the Three Pashas.

In, 1915, in a rehearsal for the Holocaust, the Armenians were rounded up and marched south into the Syrian Desert, to die without food or water at 35°20′00″N 40°9′00″E, the location of modern Deir ez Zor.

It wasn’t hard for the Turks to commit the Armenian Genocide, which today they still do not admit. There were no protests. T. E. Lawrence was the British leader of the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans. In  Seven Pillars of Wisdom, the basis of Lawrence of Arabia, he remarks on the passivity and obedience of Turkish soldiers. If directed to be friendly to an Arab village, they were remarkably obedient. If directed to slaughter the inhabitants, their obedience was thorough.

To understand what is yet to come, consider the geography. Most of the area is typical of the Syrian desert, which can support only sparse populations of nomads and livestock. This is why, in 1915, 150,000 Armenians perished at Deir ez Zor. It wasn’t land to colonize; it was land to die in.

The Turks will tell you they need a buffer zone because of cross-border support for the PKK in Turkey. There is something to this. But it should be remembered that the PKK was created by extreme oppression of Kurdish culture, which included the banning of Kurdish dress, language, and even the identity of “Kurd.”

The conflict was well on the way to solution, in the form of cultural accommodation, by Prime Minister Turgut Özal, when he died in 1993. Based on exhumation in 2012,  he was poisoned. The Three Pashas remain alive in the Turkish State.

These similarities with the Armenian Genocide suggest a repetition:

  • Turkey is overloaded with refugees.
  • The secular, inclusive state of Kemal Ataturk has receded, while the observations of T.E. Lawrence remain pertinent.
  • The state is still devoted to Turkish monoculture, with both covert and overt manifestations. Turkey continues to deny the  Armenian Genocide.

So the region is primed for genocide. How will it come off? According to (Reuters) Explainer: Turkey set to redraw map of Syrian war once more,  the initial military target lies between Tel Abayad and Ras al-Ain. This is desert, with two cross-border cities. By itself, this is of little concern.

The northeast corner of Syria is historically part of the Kurdish region that spans Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. The 20 mile zone would obliterate it. But as this area is mountainous and not very rewarding, Turkey will first deprive the Kurdish proto-state of its primary natural resources: the fertile, watered river valley of the Euphrates, and  the  oil fields around Deir ez Zor.

Then they will drive the Kurds into the desert to die, as they did with the Armenians in 1915.

(Reuters) Trump threatens to ‘obliterate’ Turkish economy over Syria incursion plan. The threat of U.S. economic pressure  will mean nothing to the Turks.

The history books of the future will have something to say about this. Betrayal and genocide are terrible things to have your name  on.

I’m feeling some shame myself.

 

 

North Korea breaks off nuclear talks with U.S. in Sweden; The End of a Road

(Reuters) North Korea breaks off nuclear talks with U.S. in Sweden. Quoting,

The North’s chief nuclear negotiator, Kim Myong Gil, who spent much of the day in talks with an American delegation, cast the blame on what he portrayed as U.S. inflexibility, saying the other side’s negotiators would not “give up their old viewpoint and attitude.”

This walk-out on working level talks should put the nail in the coffin of wishful thinking, heavily promoted early on by 38North, and some academicians in South Korea. In June 2018, at a  Tokyo panel discussion on North Korea, South Korea’s National Security Advisor, Moon Jae-in, said,

“Now is the time to set aside all those things. Let us see whether North Korea can deliver what the U.S. wants and the entire world wants,” Moon said….“Therefore past behavior should not be the yardstick to judge current or future behavior of North Korea.”

Bad advice, which I rebuked in North Korea’s past no indication, South Korea adviser; The Past is Prologue. These “respected authorities”, and others, failed to deliver the goods when tasked with going beyond academic compilation to the dynamic of prediction.

The media covered the summit circus with handshake photos, floral arrangements, the back seat of Trump’s limo., and a focus that made it look like a PR game. Was this a harmless diversion, or a misdirection of the public’s limited attention? Perhaps it was harmless, but one message was missing: This doesn’t mean anything.

The floral arrangements  have decayed to dust. The shallow scoring of the pundits-of-the-day, about who had better moves on the dance floor, had no relevance beyond a month of collective euphoria. We are back to vile, poisonous, hollow plutonium spheres in the hands of a man who murdered his brother. Even 38North has gone back to chronicling North Korea’s march to become a strategic nuclear power.

I would have none of it. I gave my estimate in Reuters: Trump says ‘major, major’ conflict with North Korea possible. It is identical with the CIA estimate. Quoting,

The bullet list has tight linkages, implying that the object of regime change is identical as a goal with nuclear disarmament of North Korea.

From the above, you might think I’m a hawk. Wrong! It’s a common mental error to conflate intelligence with strategy. Let’s keep them separate here.  The fact that North Korea is a threat does not imply a military solution. The problem of North Korea is  no more or less solvable than the problem of Iran.

In the next two paragraphs, I’ll lay out why betting on horses is a surer enterprise than wars of prevention.

World War I was the “war to end wars.”  The end to war didn’t happen, so the next time war threatened, in 1938, then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain tried to buy peace with Hitler at the expense of Czechoslovakia with the Munich Agreement. That didn’t work either. While  the Korean War was forced upon us, the Domino Theory from the 50’s on fostered another preventive war, in Vietnam.

The Gulf War of 1991, an unqualified military victory, was questioned as a success, since it left in power a ruthless dictator. The follow-up corrective, the 2003 Iraq Invasion, may have been justified. But  the civil decisions that ensued are the direct cause of an Iraq which cannot resist Iran’s expansionism. Viewed as one conflict, these military actions failed the geopolitical goals.

So up to the present, with all the supposed wisdom immanent the think tanks and NSC, one thing is elusive. Paraphrasing Liddell Hart, how can war create a better peace?

If I were to pick the brain of General Mattis, he might be thinking: Instead of looking for the next war, let it find you. So where does this leave the Trump Administration?

  • John Bolton’s opinion, in common with the CIA, and my opinion, is that Kim will never give up nuclear weapons. But because his office was in the White House, and understood by outsiders to be intimately connected with the Presidency, he should have been discrete with that opinion. And Bolton does not seem to have internalized the history of wars of prevention.
  • Trump, in common with FDR’s approach to Joseph Stalin at Yalta,  attempted to establish a personal relationship with Kim. This doesn’t work, because Stalin and Kim were/are not regular guys. They’re out for themselves. Since we cut FDR some slack, we could do the same for Trump.
  • So in view of the difficult alternatives, do I blame Trump for cozying up to Kim? It depends, not upon his public attitude, but what he really believes.  Schmoozing is what you do with someone you need to work with but don’t really like.
  • The CIA got this right from the get-go. Nevertheless, our culture makes negotiation obligatory before conflict.

Schmoozing is OK. Believing is not.

 

 

 

 

Uprising Grips Iraq, 65 Killed

(Reuters) Uprising grips Iraq, 65 killed in protests against government corruption.

(Al Jazeera) Iraq protests: All the latest updates spotlights a key player:

Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, whose coalition had won the largest number of seats in last year’s elections, urged legislators to suspend their parliamentary membership and boycott sessions until the government responds to the protesters’ demands.

“Hurry to suspend your membership without delay,” he said in a statement issued before a parliamentary session on Saturday.

This is the same  individual whose minions were one of the backbones of the insurgency that gripped Iraq between 2004 and 2008. Post that interval, he became the most adroit politician in Iraq, positioning as the “conscience of the nation” without being tarred by political office. His positions have gyrated between violence and conciliation. He has resided in Iran for indeterminate periods. The Iranian and Iraqi religious establishments have close ties, divided mainly by the issue of Velâyat-e Faqih, a very new invention which may in the near future be no issue at all. See Iran history II: two societies.

So I have long harbored the suspicion, which I cannot substantiate, that Muqtada al-Sadr is an Iranian mole, or with more grayness, a buyable personage. He’s not an ayatollah; he may lack the brainpower for the horrific memorization and declamation, but in return for delivering Iraq to Iran, Qom might judge more favorably than Najaf.  Or he might enjoy  being the ruler of a satrap. These are personal suspicions, unsubstantiated by anything in open source.

With Iraq on the verge of disintegration, a triangle of three forces provides a simple visualization. The corners of the triangle are patriotism, grievance, and oppression. The state of practically any nation can be represented by a dot inside the triangle, nearest to the forces most in play. In Iraq today, the dot is almost on the line connecting patriotism and grievance. If the dot moves all the way over to grievance, Iraq explodes.

Sadr is helping this along  by riding the tide of grievance, and promoting the dissolution of the parliament. The fact of corruption characteristic to a tribal society is a boon to his machinations. He doesn’t have to manufacture anything.

If Sadr succeeds in disenfranchising Iraq’s civil administration, Iran may decide to lend a helping hand. Basra looks particularly juicy. It’s near Iran, the residents are well ahead of the curve of discontent. It provides a choke point on the Shatt al-Arab, extending influence well inland, to the entire drainage basin of the Tigris and Euphrates.

Iran’s strategic planners are at least gaming this out. An alternative, or adjunct, would be further strikes against Saudi facilities. At some level, oil starvation becomes less tolerable than compliance with U.S. sanctions. The result could be a general, willful disregard of U.S. sanctions, together with widespread dollar substitution, and weakening of the dollar as the primary reserve currency.

I’ve written about various ways the cookie can crumble. See:

The takeaway: In this region, we don’t have a winning hand, but:

  • Stick tight with Saudi Arabia.
  • Yemen has possibilities, which I won’t discuss here.
  • Have a contingency plan for deployment of ground forces.

Houthis Claim Saudi Territory in Big Battle

(CNN) Houthi rebels show video of alleged attack on Saudi and Yemeni forces. Quoting,

Saree, who made the claims during a televised address Sunday, said rebels had “liberated” a 350 square kilometer (135 square mile) area while also capturing scores of enemy vehicles and thousands of soldiers who surrendered.

This has a decent chance of truth. In 2017, I wrote Saudi Arabia Versus Iran; Battle for the Middle East Part 3. Quoting,

Saudi Arabia doesn’t have any infantry divisions, with a possible exception of a “Guards” unit. Since even the U.S. Army has a sizeable infantry, there must be a reason other than utility for the absence of an infantry. In Saudi Arabia, the attractions of the list don’t work for infantry. No Saudi in his right mind wants to hump a pack and a rifle…. Our Gordian knot-clipper points to the existence of a sizeable Iranian infantry component as a sign of potency absent in Saudi Arabia.

Yet the U.S. is also a comfortable place to live, and it fields the world’s finest infantry. It comes down to national motivation. Nationalism is the frequently erroneous belief that one’s country has characteristics endearing enough to sacrifice one’s life. These could be:

  • Some form of exceptionalism, as in American Exceptionalism.
  • Cultural affinities, such as Russia’s pan-slavism.
  • All your friends and family live there.

Nationalism can be  a curse or a blessing. It figures prominently in world history, as a characteristic of the nation, which is the largest tribal unit. Let’s skirt these issues, to note that the psychology of nationalism may be weak or absent in Saudi Arabia. It may have too recently been a bunch of tribes, their affinities focused on a supranational idea, Islam.

Further reading: Saudi Arabia Versus Iran; the Saudi Decision Process; Part 1, and Saudi Arabia Versus Iran; the Saudi Decision Process; Part 2.

The practical takeaway:  A U.S. policy to confront Iran should have a contingency backup of large ground force deployments.

 

Why the New Arms Race?

I originally wrote this as a preface to Preface to Hypersonic Strategies, Part 6. Then I thought the better of it. The current readership prefers the concrete and technical to soft ice-cream humanist. I just thought again. With the current distractions of domestic politics, only the most widely ranging readers will bother with Intel9.  So now’s the time.

It began,  “Forthcoming Part 6 has a decidedly Strangelovian air, so this is both a disclaimer and a warning.” It continues:

The resumption of the arms race is a pox on humanity. Is it due to particular individuals, or is it a case of historical inevitability? There is a natural tendency to simplify by concentration of blame, producing theories that tend to be wrongly simple and simply wrong.

Bringing all the factors together permits even those whose world views tend towards simplicity the opportunity to consider history as an infernal machine of reactions, rebounds, and ricochets, and possibly hybridize their views. The menu items:

  • Historical inevitability.
  • Economic protectionism.
  • Historical causes/grudges
  • Cultural differences.
  • Personalities.
  • Domestic politics of states involved in this conflict.
  • Accidents of history.
  • Hidden motives.

Any particular flowchart  of genesis could be rejected, just from disagreement  about proportions of factors, not the factors themselves. Skipping the proportions, we may find a common core. It begins with the fall of the Soviet Union.

In the immediate aftermath, Russia under Yeltsin, and “early Putin”, looked to the West for inspiration, wanted to become part of the West, and aspired to join NATO.  Two rejections ensued:

  • Rather than accept Russia as a NATO member or associate, NATO expanded eastward, as a “purely defensive alliance” against only one possible adversary, Russia.
  • The EEC, and later EU refused to open their markets to Russia.

Historical inevitability,  fear driven reaction to the Iron Curtain, lays a big claim to the above. Economic protectionism ratified these fears. Europeans feared cheap Russian labor and the absence of business law.

European memories of the Iron Curtain, an historical cause, were fresh.  Among Russians, there was a personal sense of rejection, which may be partly responsible for a regression to the past, but with a twist. Instead of ideology, the new-old Russia is feared by  the West in the same way and for the same reasons described by Joseph Conrad before the Bolsheviks; see Trump-Putin Summit; An Executive Summary; The Oldest Russia Analyst. From his 1905 essay, Autocracy and War:

...From the very first ghastly dawn of her existence as a state, she had to breathe the atmosphere of despotism, she found nothing but the arbitrary will of an obscure Autocrat at the beginning and end of her organization. Hence arises her impenetrability to whatever is true in Western thought. Western thought when it crosses her frontier falls under the spell of her Autocracy and becomes a noxious parody of itself. Hence the contradictions, the riddles, of her national life which are looked upon with such curiosity by the rest of the world. The curse had entered her very soul; Autocracy and nothing else  in the world has moulded her institutions, and with the poison of slavery drugged the national temperament into the apathy of a hopeless fatalism...

Conrad describes cultural differences, illuminated by visceral fear, inspired by geography and history. It would be hard to overstate Polish fear of Russia, which is why Poland has vigorously promoted U.S. military presence.

Personalities and domestic politics combined in Russia to devise a new/old conception of the State to fill the vacuum. Many observed that Russians seemed incredibly unpatriotic, leaving the world’s longest land border crucially vulnerable.  Putin’s conception of the new state was Slavic nationalism with a weakly authoritarian core, and a foreign policy with notes of 1914. Contrary to those who run the “most powerful man in the world” contest, Putin’s autocracy is  limited. With a power base of Slavic nationalism, he can’t back up. Hence, frozen conflict Ukraine.

The Russians hoped to join the West; we rejected them for the reasons of Conrad and protectionism, so they went back to the only ways they knew, intimidation, interventions, subversion, deception,  and poisons. The old ways. Could we have pulled Russia into the future? Is the monster in part our careless creation?

This is a description of fertile ground for an arms race, but missing a catalyst. This came in the form of rogue state nuclear ambitions, the given reason for withdrawal of the U.S. from the ABM treaty in 2002. In response to choice of Poland to site an ABM radar complex, Russia offered a technically better one, rejected for the reasons best described by Conrad.

Although hypersonic missiles present many opportunities for asymmetric warfare, Russia’s conclusion that the U.S. ABM system is intended to negate  her strategic deterrent is a major driver. It was strengthened by on-off development of the Multiple Kill Vehicle, MKV,  proposed to close the gap between the cost per shot of ICBMs and defense against them. It is obscured by the irritations of every-day, of Russia’s tactics seeking every marginal advantage, verging on low intensity warfare. But while Putin may be the most important parent of  Russia’s rebirth-via-return to the past,  the child has the genes of many.

Does this dissection of the infernal machine of recent history suggest an opportunity to reverse it? Possibly, but one obstacle has nothing to do with the U.S. In Russia, many more things are hidden than proclaimed, so a hidden motive is possible. The hypothesis:

  • Russia fears China much more than the U.S.
  • Putin’s Russia must be galvanized by tension, to become a modern Sparta.
  • Elevation of tensions with China is dangerous; the U.S. becomes the  safe substitute.
  • Confounding simplicity, this could be part of a mix.

In an open society, such schemes do not get very far in silence. But this is Joseph Conrad’s Russia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robert O’Brien

(CNN) Trump names new national security adviser.

The Trump administration has a lot of strong individuals, shaping policy as well as executing it. Quoting,

One senior White House official argued the pick shows that Trump “wants a consensus builder, not a showboater” in the role, suggesting O’Brien will cut a lower profile and work better with others in the administration than John Bolton did.

In the past, the people who made marks in the job were of the individual mold. Kissinger’s public personality overlaps a little with John Bolton’s; both are strong-willed individuals who concentrated power in their hands. What this comparison omits is Kissinger’s superiority of intellect. Kissinger wrote the textbook on diplomacy that is used to teach the subject.  But Brzezinski’s intellect approached Kissinger’s, and he was a smooth operator.

Good and not so good, Kissinger, Brzezinski, and Bolton have one thing in common: they spent their lives preparing for the job. Two got it right, one got it wrong. Robert O’Brien comes into the job with the knowledge typical of presidents, not specialists.

For O’Brien-the-collegial-conciliator to shine, he needs to connect with and surround himself by individuals who have that special focus. Some may lack O’Brien’s easy social graces, or the ability to lead and empower a group as O’Brien might. Others may have isolated ideas of spectacular import, yet unable to promote. This is Robert O’Brien’s new garden.

Mr. O’Brien, start tilling. Grow us some roses.

 

Retaliation to Iran’s Strike

Some things cannot be included in this public statement.  If my thoughts happen to be convergent with the NSC, and I were to state them here,  it could be semi-equivalent to a tipoff to the adversary.

As an attempt to change the behavior of an adversary, the trade war with China has been carried out much more adroitly than the analogous attempt at behavior modification of Iran. To be sure, the ingrained behavior of a fanatical quasi-religious state is a much tougher nut than  China’s pragmatic economists. But certain general principles still apply.

One principle is setting the stakes at an appropriate level. If they’re too high, it pushes the adversary into desperate measures. If the the right amount of pressure is applied, which may never be known except after the fact, the adversary’s calculations are likely to be more fluid.

The gray beards of Iran might give a point or two, but they won’t change their minds. But every year, they shrink away a little, while the new blood grows. The natural time scale is generations. Maybe the time scale can be accelerated a little, but with too much pressure, the graybeards react. They are reactionary.

So we should aim for bearable misery. If Iran were a fish, you’d want to let it run, play the line. This is why I was in favor of letting Iran sell a little oil, jerking them around. Unpredictable is good. As it is, the U.S. program is completely predictable, and they are jerking us around. In Coalition Against Iran; Logical Positivism and Self Interest, I suggested, in steps:

  • Take charge of oil sales.
  • Induce a state of learned helplessness.
  • In return for good behavior, restore empowerment by degrees.

While Iran’s high tech military assets can be neutralized, the current U.S. force posture cannot prevent Iran from carving into Iraq. Quoting (Financial Times) Iraq’s desperate struggle to stay out of Iran-US feud,

“[Iraq] is a success that is emerging after four decades of conflict,” says President Barham Salih. “We don’t have the stamina, we don’t have the energy, we don’t have the resources, or the willingness, to become victim to yet another proxy conflict.”

Iraq could become a victim to the extent of an actual occupation of Basra, and other areas where Shiite militia verge on de facto control. Retaliation must be crafted to  include a disincentive to the above.

Iran’s strike damaged Saudi Arabia to an almost intolerable degree. The strike may have been too heavy. Had Iran taken out a single GSOP, as a demonstration of future risk, we might not be talking retaliation. We don’t have to make the same mistake.

An ideal target would be an industrial facility, a type  of which:

  • Iran has multiples.
  • Loss of one or two is tolerable.
  • Most must function.
  • Loss of most would be intolerable.

A strike against one plant is a demonstration, not of dollars lost but dollars-at-risk. If it is apparent to Iran that it cannot defend the remainder, it is a disincentive for Iran to retaliate. The point can be driven home through the back channel: “You strike cost Saudi $1B (Or whatever the hit to the IPO). We just took out your $500M  facility. We’re going easy on you.”

Don’t make us play hardball.

 

 

 

 

 

(CNN) US has assessed that the attack on Saudi oil facilities originated inside Iran

(CNN) Sources: The US has assessed that the attack on Saudi oil facilities originated inside Iran. Quoting,

The US has told at least one US ally in the Middle East, that they have intelligence showing that the launch was “likely” coming from staging grounds in Iran, but they have not shared that intelligence yet. “It is one thing to tell us, it is another thing to show us,” said a diplomat from the region.

The intelligence may have been obtained via cutting edge technology, epitomizing the ultimate in abilities of technical collection.

The question: To share or not to share? For the sake of preserving secrecy of the methods, it might be best not to.

Iran, Iraq, Yemen? Act of War? Note to Reuters, Factual Error

This is a time to get the facts straight.

(Reuters) Attack on Saudi oil facility came from direction of Iran, not Yemen: U.S. official. Quoting,

The U.S. official, who asked not to be named, said there were 19 points of impact in the attack on Saudi facilities and that evidence showed the launch area was west-northwest of the targets – the direction of Iran – not south from Yemen.

However, the map bearing of Iran from Abqaiq GOSP 5 to the westernmost Iran border is 347 degrees. So if the attack originated in Iran, it would be more correct to give the direction as almost due NORTH. On the other hand, southwestern Iraq is west-north-west of Abqaiq. One way or the other, Reuters has it wrong, the wrong country or the wrong direction.

Regardless of the launch point, Yemen, Iraq, or Iran, I’m easily persuaded that Iran is responsible. The forensics must be daunting, because the drone or cruise missile debris was incinerated by the intense petroleum fires. If just one had failed to make the target, there would be more substantial indicators.

The details of Iranian innovation in drone guidance are not available to open source, because of the sensitivity of HUMINT. If we assume radio control,  the maximum control distance has been publicly stated by Iran for some drones. If the limit is 210 miles (?), this becomes the strongest indication for Iranian launch and control. It’s only 191 miles from the Iran coast to Abqaiq GOSP 5, the shortest distance of the three countries. It is mostly over water, which improves the range.

Quoting from US official: Iran has moved missiles to Persian Gulf,

Is there something more we can tease out of open source? A template based on the recent past gives insight into Iranian tactics, which emphasize surprise, asymmetry, and deniability. Against the background of comparatively moderate posturing by the secular government, attacks against U.S. forces have occurred in a deniable manner.

Whether the attack is regarded as an act of war is the option of the injured party. Iran has considerately made another deniable attack.

So we could just look the other way.

 

Houthi Drone Raid on Abqaiq, Time to Restart

Saudi estimates on time to restart will be available in a few days. so this estimate is an exercise.  A 1960 article from “Aramco World”, titled Sweetening Up the Crude, is relevant. When we think of a refinery, the “cracking unit” comes to mind, as it is most central to producing refined petroleum products. But crackers are not central to the main job of Abqaiq, which is removing sulfur, and dissolved flammable gases under high pressure. Quoting,

All the crude produced in Saudi Arabia—except for that of the offshore Safaniya Field in the Persian Gulf—is "sour." At ground level the pressure may be as high as 1,000 pounds per square inch (or "1,000 psi," as the engineers say). It must be reduced considerably before it reaches the stabilizer, so it's sent first to a gas-oil separator plant, or "GOSP." There are eleven of these in the Abqaiq area.

Now, the gas can't be allowed to "blow off" all at once. If it did, a considerable amount of liquid would also be lost—something like shaking a bottle of soda pop before uncapping it.

The gas is released in stages in a series of drums or columns, known as separators, before it reaches a spheroid where the pressure is cut down to about 2 psi. By now, most of the light hydrocarbon gases have been removed, but the gas is still "sour." The next step is to pump it to the sour-crude storage tanks at the stabilizer to await processing.

If water and sulfur are both present in crude, sulfuric acid forms, which eats through low alloy steels in common use.

The  inlet pressure of the (as of 1960) 11 GOSPs  is about 1000 psi, 10X the operating pressure of a typical “cracker” The GSOP’s at Abqaiq are made of heavy gauge stainless steel to resist both pressure and corrosion by sulfuric acid.   This is required because there is no control over the  composition of the oil as it comes out of the ground. Later in processing, combinations of stabilizing chemicals, and removal of water, make possible (Science Direct) transport of some sour crudes  in HSLA steel pipelines.  But at Abqaiq, Aramco actually transforms sour into sweet, with a resulting price premium.

  • The drone warheads are small, too small to destroy a substantial building. But if a drone hit a GOSP, the high operating pressures and  abundance of flammable gases would multiply the effect, resulting in total destruction.
  • The requirements of replacement: thick stainless steel, custom fabrication, and flawless welding. These days, stainless production and fabrication is principally done in China, a supply chain risk.
  • Other infrastructure, such as pumps and automation, are potentially serviceable with spare parts. This is not the case of the GOSPs.
  • This is not a simple Shukhov thermal cracker, of the kind the massive WWII Allied bombing raids on Ploiești found so hard to flatten. High technology and large scale exact the penalty of long lead times.

The estimate,  purely as an exercise, is 120 days for partial resumption of lost production.

To say there is no defense against this level of attack is incorrect. The AN/SEQ-3 Laser Weapon System is a good fit, though study of saturation attack is a requirement. Since,

  • The targets are large, high value infrastructure,
  • Large areas of Houthi control, and all of Iran, enjoy a shield from direct combat conditions,

Saturation attacks are more likely than if the origin is  a combat zone.