On 14 September, strikes of uncertain provenance hit Saudi Arabia’s largest oil facilities, taking some 50 per cent of the kingdom’s oil production temporarily offline. Crisis Group offers a 360-degree view of the attacks and their implications for Middle Eastern and international peace and security.
Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran eased partly thanks to third-party intervention by Iraq and Pakistan, and Saudi airstrikes against Huthis in Yemen reduced in intensity and scope. With Riyadh’s blessing, Iraq reportedly engaged Iran to reduce Saudi-Iran tensions. Pakistani PM Khan visited Iran and Saudi Arabia, 13 and 15 Oct respectively, in bid to ease tensions. FM Jubeir 21 Oct denied mediation efforts. Following 14 Sept suspected Iranian attacks on Saudi oil facilities, U.S. 11 Oct announced deployment of 3,000 military personnel and two Patriot missile batteries to Saudi Arabia. Govt 13 Oct denied involvement in 11 Oct attack on Iranian tanker in Red Sea off Saudi coast. Iranian official 31 Oct announced Saudi Arabia had released nineteen Iranian fishermen, eleven detained since Dec 2018, eight since Jan. Following Huthis’ 20 Sept unilateral cessation of cross-border attacks into Saudi Arabia, Saudi airstrikes on Huthi-controlled territory reduced in frequency and geographic scope. Govt continued to mediate talks between Yemeni govt and United Arab Emirates-backed southern separatists in Jeddah and Riyadh; both sides closed in on agreement to form new, more inclusive govt and end hostilities in south (see Yemen). Russian President Putin 14 Oct visited Saudi Arabia for first time in twelve years; he discussed regional security with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman while trade delegates signed economic agreements worth $2bn.
Saudi Arabia has been forging links to Iraq since reopening its Baghdad embassy in 2016. Its adversary Iran has strong Iraqi ties. If Riyadh avoids antagonising Tehran, invests wisely and quiets anti-Shiite rhetoric, Iraq can be a bridge between the rival powers - not a battleground.
From Saudi Arabia's establishment in 1932, its minority Shiite population has been subject to discrimination and sectarian incitement. Beginning in the early 1990s, with then Crown Prince Abdullah's active support, the government took steps to improve inter-sectarian relations.
Saudi Arabia is at a critical stage in both its struggle against terrorism and its on-again, off-again efforts at reform, and Islamism is at the heart of both.
The Saudi regime faces one of the more difficult phases in its history. Fearful of change, accustomed to a system in which it holds enormous power and privileges, the ruling family may consider any serious reform a risk not worth taking.
Riyadh may not want war with Iran, but there are risks to this strategy of rhetorical confrontation.
Les deux partis au Congrès perdent patience face à la campagne menée par l’Arabie Saoudite au Yémen. Il y a des raisons d’espérer que le Congrès interviendra pour contrer MBS, même si Trump ne le fait pas.
Secretary Pompeo was put in an almost impossible situation from the outset: traveling to meet with people [in Saudi Arabia] suspected of having ordered a political assassination at the request of a president determined to sweep the affair under the rug.
Although from a distance the U.S.-Saudi relationship appears rock solid, there are cracks in the foundation.
Most people agree at this point that the Saudis are facing a legitimate security threat and that Iran is part of the problem. By continuing down this road, things will just get worse.
Nobody doubts that Iran has been helping the [Yemeni] Houthis. [But], nobody doubts that Saudi Arabia has been conducting activities that are violations of the rules of war either.
A series of escalations in both word and deed have raised fears of U.S.-Iranian military confrontation, either direct or by proxy. It is urgent that cooler heads prevail – in European capitals as in Tehran and Washington – to head off the threat of a disastrous war.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are actively fighting one another in the media, through armed proxies, in cyberspace and with Western lobbyists. But in Iraq they should both see the case for détente.
Originally published in The Hill
After the defeat of the Islamic State in 2017, normality is returning to Iraq ahead of the 12 May parliamentary elections. In this Q&A, Crisis Group's Senior Analyst for the Arabian Peninsula Elizabeth Dickinson says the country’s cautious optimism includes hopes of a new partnership with Riyadh, balancing Baghdad’s strong ties with Tehran.
Originally published in The Washington Post