When a swarm of drones and cruise missiles attacked Saudi Arabia’s biggest oil facility on Sept. 14, an outraged Trump administration quickly blamed Iran for what it called an “unprecedented attack” on global energy supplies. But the real surprise was the strike’s accuracy: Of 19 weapons used, all but two scored direct hits.
When the smoke cleared, Saudi officials counted 14 holes where incoming projectiles had sliced through petroleum storage tanks. Three other critical parts of the oil-processing facility had been hit and disabled, shutting down the facility and temporarily cutting Saudi oil production in half.
In subsequent reports, U.S. analysts would describe the attack as a kind of wake-up call: evidence of a vastly improved arsenal of high-precision missiles that Iran has quietly developed and shared with allies over the past decade. In the event of a wider war with the United States, Iran would probably deploy such weapons to inflict substantial damage on any number of targets, from U.S. military bases to oil facilities to sites in Israel, analysts say. “They’re saying, ‘We can now hit those,’ ” said Fabian Hinz, an expert on Iran’s missile program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, Calif. “What we’ve seen in Iran in the past few years is a change from missiles that were mainly political or psychological tools to actual battlefield weapons. This is a quantum change.”