Oil remains central to the global economy and security architecture. Even as the world aspires to confront climate change and curb its appetite for fossil fuels, it continues to depend heavily on oil to power its cars, trucks, tanks, jets, and ships.

The debilitating attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry last month, which the United States has attributed to Iran, were a reminder of the fragility of the oil market, and how certain world actors such as Iran may attempt to use this to their geopolitical advantage. Iran and its proxies could hold major oil facilities in the Middle East hostage, threatening to destroy them if their demands are not met.

In recent years, Iran has built up an arsenal of thousands of missiles, including cruise and ballistic missiles, capable of doing severe damage to oil facilities across the Persian Gulf. It also has troops and proxy fighters with missile, rocket, and drone capabilities scattered across the region: in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen.

Some U.S. missile defense systems, such as the Patriot system, can theoretically defend a specific base or facility, while others, like the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system, can protect a broad area. However, Iran can attack regional oil installations from multiple fronts using a variety of weapons, including drones and cyberattacks. Thus, it is extremely difficult to protect all facilities of all regional producers simultaneously, particularly in Saudi Arabia, where the oil industry has a large geographic footprint.

Recent media reports have said that Saudi Arabia is particularly vulnerable to inexpensively made armed drones, which have successfully evaded the kingdom’s existing air defenses. Iran-backed Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen have used these weapons to target critical sites in Saudi Arabia, including airports and oil facilities.

Source » cfr