The implications of the Aramco attacks

Published 25.09.2019 02:02

Saudi Arabia's Aramco, one of the biggest companies in the world, was hit by armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones. A total of 18 drones and seven missiles were launched against the Saudi infrastructure. The attack was the worst on Middle Eastern oil facilities since Saddam Hussein set fire to Kuwait's oil wells in 1990. The attack knocked out 5% of the world's oil supply, and oil prices increased almost 20% as a result. Even though the attacks were claimed by Houthi rebels, Saudi Arabian officials blamed Iran, at least for providing weapons to the Houthis. Some officials even claimed that Iran was directly involved in the attacks.

There are several significant implications of the attacks, which are now being considered a milestone in Middle Eastern politics. First, the attack showed the deterrent power of Iran in the region. Even though Iran does not have nuclear weapons, at least for now, it still has power in the region. Iran not only uses drones and missiles but also sells these weapons to its regional proxies. Therefore, it will not be easy to subdue. Second, another dimension of the Iranian deterrent power is its proxies in the region, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Ansarullah in Yemen. Iran can and does use them against its regional opponents. That is, Iran has been mobilizing proxy instruments in the region.

I ran is able to mobilize Shiite populations living in Arab Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, against their respective regimes.

Third, the attacks are an indication of the vulnerability of the Saudi state. Riyadh has been spending the largest amount of money for weapons systems for the last two decades. It had Patriot missiles in the area that was hit by drones, but the Saudi air defense umbrella was unable to detect the drones and missiles. The attack raised questions about the Saudis ability to protect its territory with the defense systems provided by the U.S. and for which it has paid billions of dollars. Eventually, although the Saudi kingdom has been intervening in the domestic affairs of many regional countries, it found itself shouldering the burden of defense at home. Riyadh is not immune to devastating attacks, and its territories are vulnerable against a possible attack from a nonstate actor.

Fourth, there is a limit to how much the United States can protect the kingdom. The U.S. is less dependent on Middle Eastern oil than before; therefore, there is less at stake for Washington in the region. Naturally, the U.S. has its own calculations and expectations. Most observers agree that President Donald Trump's administration does not want to undertake a military operation in the Middle East, especially against Iran. However, Saudis are now much more dependent on American power than ever before. Considering the most recent protests in Egypt against Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the future for the Saudi regime is not bright. It has to invest more in the support of the external powers.

Fifth, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is also quite vulnerable against a potential Iranian attack, began to pursue a different foreign policy toward Iran. Since the UAE has its own vulnerabilities at home, some emirates such as Dubai have developed close relations with Iran, and they do not want their trade with Iran to drop. It seems they will not push their anti-Iranian stance to the limit. As a result, the UAE has actually taken steps to decrease its anti-Iranian policies.

Finally, European countries worried about escalating tensions in the Middle East have tried to intervene in the conflict and encourage dialogue and reconciliation between the two sides. In this context, the leaders of three European countries, namely the United Kingdom, France and Germany, declared in a joint statement at the United Nations that Iran was responsible for the attacks on Saudi oil facilities. They pointed out that they are committed to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal but also asked Iran to abide by the agreement.

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