The article was first published on The CorporateDispatch Week.
On September 14, the tension in the Persian Gulf reached alarming levels with an attack on two important oil facilities in Saudi Arabia – Abqaiq and Khurais.
Officially, Houthi rebels in Yemen took responsibility for the attack but all fingers are pointing to Iran. The Islamic Republic is vehemently denying the accusation, even if with little success.
The attacks were an eye opener and underscored the new reality that Saudi oil production is not immune to external geopolitical forces. Customers can no longer count on uninterrupted access to the country’s oil exports.
Saudi authorities announced that 18 drones and seven cruise missiles were fired at the targets. The attacks raised many questions about why Iran attacked Saudi Arabian oil infrastructure when it risks sparking a conflict more damaging than the sanctions it already faces. Analysts have also pointed out potential risks of undermining the necessary goodwill for a future deal.
Other questions arise: Why was there only one strike at Saudi oil? It was small and successful, so why were there no follow-up or secondary strikes?
Secondary strikes would have unleashed a war that would make both sides pay a heavy price without either coming out victorious, although this reason alone does not completely rule out the possibility.
Some observers have interpreted the attacks as a message that Iran still has teeth in retaliation to the US pressure against them.
This was a demonstration of strength without the intention of war, but with enough impact to expose Saudi Arabia’s vulnerability and gain an important bargaining chip in future negations. Amid all this, Iran is also ratcheting up its nuclear program .
It is a high-risk gamble, reminiscent of the tactics often used by North Korea in the past when it wanted to bargain.
A determining factor in the scenario is probably US President Donald Trump’s reluctance to go to war in Iran, or anywhere else.
Iran doesn’t want to invade Saudi Arabia; it wants to establish a foothold in Yemen. But with Saudi Arabia doing all it can to oppose this and with US and international sanctions increasingly strangling the country’s economy, Tehran is looking for a way out.
Tonio Galea, heads the GeoPolitical research unit of CiConsulta and Editor of CorporateDispatch.Com