THE attacks on two key Saudi oil facilities on Saturday, claimed by Yemen’s Houthi movement, offer a small preview of just how explosive — figuratively and literally — the situation in the Middle East can become unless there is de-escalation from all sides. The attacks, believed to have been carried out by either drones or missiles, struck the Saudi oil heartland in the country’s east, and stood out due to the devastation they caused, as well as revealed major chinks in the kingdom’s armour where internal security is concerned. Oil prices have spiralled, while an angry war of words has erupted primarily involving the Saudis, the US and Iran. The US says it has intelligence that Iran is involved, but has offered nothing concrete, while the Saudis have called for action without naming their cross-Gulf neighbour. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has, meanwhile, termed US accusations “max deceit”.
The Middle East currently resembles a cauldron ready to bubble over, with multiple crises brewing in different parts of the region. And behind most of these confrontations are two geopolitical blocs fighting for influence in the area; one is led by the US and contains the Gulf Arabs, with Saudi Arabia as its most important component, as well as Israel. The other is fronted by Iran and its allied groups in the region, including Hezbollah, the Houthis and militias within Iraq, along with Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. There is little doubt that the events in eastern Saudi Arabia over the weekend were the latest act in this power play. There can be two ways to proceed from here; the first is the path of confrontation. President Donald Trump, without naming Iran, says his military is “locked and loaded” waiting upon the right signal from the Saudis. Iranian military commanders have responded by saying all US bases in the region are within the range of their missiles. The other path is of de-escalation. For one, the US and Saudi Arabia can take the initiative to end the ruinous war in Yemen, which has killed over 11,000 civilians. This, along with ending the long nightmare of the Yemeni people, can be a key move to ensure regional security, specifically that of Saudi Arabia. Secondly, the US needs to end the economic war it has unleashed against Iran and return to the nuclear deal. The next few days will be critical and indicate which path all parties involved will take.
Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2019