The largest oil exporting country in the Middle East announced last weekend that its Abqaiq petroleum processing facilities and Khurais oil field were attacked by a number of missiles and rockets, causing a huge fire and a 50 per cent cut in its daily oil production. Saudi Arabia's Aramco said that the attack was behind the largest price hike in recent years.
The main importer of Saudi oil is the US, the self-appointed guardian of the global energy market. The US views Saudi Arabia as a close ally; the whole world has seen what that means, with President Donald Trump turning a blind eye to Saudi's disastrous human rights record under the de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. The list of crimes includes the murder of Washington-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi almost a year ago.
Hence, the US was expected to respond to the attack in Saudi Arabia in order to maintain the flow of oil, protect the energy market and keep Riyadh on side and strong. However, its response did not meet those expectations.
Immediately after the attack, Trump said that he was waiting for the government in Riyadh to identify those responsible. He tweeted that the US knows the attacker, "but [we] are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!"
On Wednesday, a Saudi defence spokesman announced that the attack was "unquestionably sponsored by Iran" and claimed that 25 drones and cruise missiles were used to carry it out and were fired from the direction of its Gulf neighbour. The Defence Ministry showed the debris of the missiles and stressed that this was enough evidence to blame Iran.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo then said that Iran stand was behind the attack, without providing any evidence. Tehran rejected this and said that the allegations were meant to justify "actions" against it.
Despite all of this, Trump is still holding fire; it seems that he is not planning to take any real action against Iran. When he was asked about a possible military response, he asked, "How did going into Iraq work out?" In a clear sign of intentional procrastination, he added: "There is plenty of time to do some dastardly things. It is very easy to start. And we will see what happens."
Maybe the US is no longer in need of Saudi oil. Trump made this clear when he tweeted, "Because we have done so well with Energy over the last few years…, we are a net Energy Exporter, & now the Number One Energy Producer in the World. We don't need Middle Eastern Oil & Gas, & in fact have very few tankers there, but will help our Allies!" He depended on official data to say this; annual US crude oil production reached a record level of 10.96 million barrels per day last year.
Another reason that Trump is not planning to take action against the attacker is that Saudi Arabia is becoming less of a market for US arms manufacturers because of the increasing calls for arms embargoes due to its increasing human rights violations in Yemen and against its own citizens within the Kingdom. Going to war to protect a fading ally or a former arms market is not a profitable option for Washington.
Furthermore, Trump is likely to go ahead with his plans to normalise relations with Iran and meet with President Hassan Rouhani, not least because it looks as if warmonger Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who pushed Trump to cancel the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, will not be in office much longer, and could even be on his way to prison. On top of that, Iran is stronger than Saudi Arabia in the Middle East, so is a potential ally for the US in the future, rather than the weakened Saudis, who seem intent on making enemies across the region.
As such, Trump has simply increased sanctions on Iran rather than hit it militarily. In the great scheme of regional geopolitics, this means very little.
After meeting Saudi officials in Riyadh to discuss how to respond to the attack on the oil facilities, Pompeo said: "The US stands with Saudi Arabia and supports its right to defend itself. The Iranian regime's threatening behaviour will not be tolerated." The key phrase is, "to defend itself". The US is unlikely to do anything more.
Bin Salman seems to have got the message, so is looking for alternative support. He has, for example, asked for help from South Korea to strengthen the Kingdom's air defence system.
Washington has played this very well, and on its own terms. The cost of Saudi oil is more than the benefits to the US of doing business with Riyadh. Saudi Arabia's glitter appears to be fading, because the Kingdom is nothing without its oil, and protection for its production facilities. If the US isn't going to provide that, who is?
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.