Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 16 December 2019

World should stand behind Saudi Arabia

Until perpetrators of attacks on oil facilities are identified, focus must be to avoid escalation

Smoke is seen following a fire at Aramco facility in the eastern city of Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, September 14, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
Smoke is seen following a fire at Aramco facility in the eastern city of Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, September 14, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

After two attacks hit oil facilities in eastern Saudi Arabia on Saturday, leaders are waking up to the growing threat looming over the world’s oil supply. The attacks struck the world’s largest oil processing plant in Abqaiq, as well as the Khurais oilfield, temporarily cutting off five per cent of the globe’s oil supply and dealing a blow to half of Saudi Arabia’s production. Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia’s response to the crisis has been swift, with Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman stating that the country's oil output should go "back to normal" by the end of the month.

The attacks have left many questions unanswered. Although the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have claimed the offensive, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has blamed Iran for the strikes, and American officials believe the attacks must have been carried out from Iraq or Iran - claims that both countries have denied. Meanwhile the Arab Coalition, a Saudi-led group of nations fighting alongside Yemen’s internationally recognised government, has found that Iranian weaponry was used in the attacks, and that the strike did not come from Yemen.

Whether the attack came from Iran, Iraq, Yemen or elsewhere, these findings all point to Iranian involvement. This is certainly unsurprising to regular readers of these pages. The Abqaiq and Khurais attacks have occurred after a series of Houthi assaults on commercial targets in Saudi Arabia. Houthi drones hit Saudi oil pipelines at the UAE border in Shaybah last month and, in May, they disrupted operations in eastern oilfields for three days and attacked pumping stations west of the capital Riyadh.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani claimed on Wednesday that the latest attacks were carried out by the Houthis to serve as a “warning” against Riyadh’s intervention in Yemen. But even if the Houthis are proven to be behind the Saudi attacks, an assault on the kingdom is unlikely to act as a deterrent for war, as Mr Rouhani claims. In fact, UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths told the UN Security Council the exact opposite. He stated that “at a minimum, this kind of action carries the risk of dragging Yemen into a regional conflagration”, and he insisted that “none of that is good for Yemen”.

Iran’s true motives are to take the global oil supply hostage and deal a blow to the world’s economy in an attempt to push back on US sanctions

In reality, these attacks have achieved only one thing: they have struck at the heart of the world’s largest oil exporter and disrupted oil prices and supply, exposing Iran’s true motives: to take the global oil supply hostage and deal a blow to the world’s economy in an attempt to push back on US sanctions.

In response, American President Donald Trump has expressed his support to Saudi Arabia and even said on Twitter that the US was “locked and loaded”. Mr Pompeo embarked on a visit to Jeddah and Abu Dhabi yesterday to discuss the next steps as Saudi Arabia laid out evidence of Iran’s involvement in the attacks on the same day. Amid increased US-Iranian tensions, Saudi Arabia has acted with level-headedness and avoided blaming one actor for the attacks before the investigation is complete.

Meanwhile, the country has joined the International Maritime Security Construct, which aims to protect shipping in the region, after oil tankers were intercepted by Tehran in the Strait of Hormuz. The UAE has also displayed a willingness to engage in diplomatic efforts by sending its largest delegation to this week’s United Nations General Assembly, in a bid to promote de-escalation.

In the meantime, and until the perpetrators of the attacks are found and held accountable, world leaders must stand united behind Saudi Arabia to help safeguard the world’s oil supply and avoid an all-out conflict.

Updated: September 18, 2019 08:28 PM

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