On Saturday, 14th September, two oil facilities in Saudi Arabia were targeted by a drone attack. It has been widely reported that this attack has caused a major drop in Saudi Arabia’s oil output, reducing it by 5.7 million barrels per day. Responsibility for the attack has been claimed by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group. However, foreign commentators are not convinced. Saturday’s attack, and the subsequent rhetoric, reflect wider issues in the region.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took to Twitter to denounce the attack, but instead placed the blame on the Iranian government. Referring to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Pompeo said, “Tehran is behind nearly 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia while Rouhani and Zarif pretend to engage in diplomacy.” Reuters notes that Pompeo added, “Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply.” These claims are incredibly bold, and the State Department has not yet provided any evidence to support Pompeo’s accusations. These comments may be influenced by the current diplomatic situation between the United States and Iran, with the two nations locking heads over U.S. sanctions and American withdrawal from the 2015 ‘nuclear deal.’ Pompeo’s comments may indicate a more hostile U.S. position to the nation.
Saturday’s attack has wider implications for the region. Regardless of responsibility, the attack has devastated the Saudi oil industry. The drop in output represents more than 5% of global oil supply, and it will undoubtedly lead to an increase in global prices. This comes at a time of increased tension in the region as well, with many recent high profile attacks and seizures on oil vessels which travel through the area. On top of this, Iran’s alleged involvement (whether through instigation of the attack, or backing of the Houthi rebels) worsens relations between the Middle East’s two ‘superpowers.’ The risk of conflict in the region is markedly increased by this latest event. American involvement in such a conflict would undoubtedly see support of Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally in the region.
While much reporting is focusing on the attack and the discernment of the guilty party, it should also serve as a reminder of the ongoing conflict in Yemen. The nation is currently wracked by civil war, and has been since 2015. While the civil war initially broke out between the Sunni-led government and the Shi’ite Houthi Armed Movement, it has taken on new dimensions in light of the ‘cold war’ between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Yemeni Civil War is also serving as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, each hoping for a Yemen which is aligned to their cause. Saudi Arabia is at the head of a Sunni Muslim coalition that has intervened in Yemen since 2015 (with some American support). Meanwhile, Iran has been accused of arming and supporting the Houthi rebels. The war itself has devastated Yemen, with over 3 million people displaced, tens of thousands killed or wounded, and a humanitarian crisis which has seen over 10 million Yemeni people deprived of food, water, and electricity. There is currently no end in sight.
The attack on Saturday has been devastating, and is likely to have major consequences in the coming weeks. However, it represents only one aspect of an ongoing conflict which has been occurring in the region, and it is crucial that this be resolved. The Yemeni Civil War, as well as the ‘cold war’ between Saudi Arabia and Iran, must be brought to an end as soon as possible in order to restore stability and safety to the region.