Houthi rebels, Iran’s proxies in Yemen, launched a sophisticated and coordinated drone and ground attack on a key Saudi oil pipeline last week. As a result, oil stopped flowing on that major pipeline — and oil prices in U.S. spot markets climbed sharply.
This attack is the latest in an escalating series of bombings and drone attacks, the Saudi energy minister Khalid al-Falih said, pointing to attacks on tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates and drone attacks on petroleum pumping stations supplying a pipeline running from its oil-rich Eastern Province to the Yanbu Port on the Red Sea.
He vowed that Saudi oil production would not be interrupted.
Even without Saudi supply disruptions, the news sent U.S. oil prices up 1.4%. A genuine disruption would shock oil markets in New York and London, creating much steeper price climbs. Those higher spot prices would eventually translate into higher prices in food and consumer goods (which move by truck in the U.S.) and higher home heating and cooling costs. Whether they know it or not, ordinary Americans are affected by faraway Yemen’s brutal civil war.
And the latest series of attacks by Yemen’s Houthis seem to be driven by Iran and its reaction to President Trump’s tightening of the sanctions.
Yemen’s Houthi rebels said they launched seven drones against vital installations in Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s northern neighbor. Saudi Arabia has been at war with the Houthis and their allies in Yemen since March 2015, targeting the Iranian-allied rebels with near daily airstrikes.
Iran, which provides money and weapons to the Houthi (and has also sent the rebels instructors from Hezbollah) has long been using the rebels to attack Saudi interests and advance its own.
The close timing of the two attacks this past weeks allows the Iranians to convey a clear, threatening message to the Americans and Saudis, without taking direct responsibility for the acts.
Until recently, the Tehran regime believed it could withstand the pressure of the Trump sanctions and wait for America’s 2020 presidential election, counting on Trump to lose — without getting in a direct confrontation with the United States or Iran withdrawing from its international nuclear agreement.
The Iranian regime changed its approach against the backdrop of the severity of Iran’s economic crisis (inflation has climbed to 40% per year, unemployment is rising, and foreign investment is falling) and the now not unreasonable prospect that Trump would be reelected for another four years.
The Iranian leadership is also concerned about the U.S. designation of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization and the sanctions that come with that designation.
Tehran threatened, in a statement this past week, that it would shrink its commitment to the nuclear accord in two months. The two attacks on the oil sites took place a short time later, against the backdrop of continued warnings of additional Iranian terrorist acts against American targets, particularly forces stationed in Iraq.
After the Emirati container ships were hit, Gen. Qassim Soleimani, the commander the Quds Force of the Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, posted pictures of himself on his Instagram account with two Shi’ite militia leaders in Iraq. The move appeared to be an act of double defiance of the Americans.
The Iranians are not accepting President Trump’s offer of direct dialogue, as Trump has engaged in with North Korea, for the moment.
If Iran wants to escalate the conflict with the U.S., it will launch attacks on Israel and the U.S. citizens who live there. A prime candidate for the task is Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip or Hezbollah in Lebanon, both of which are funded by Iran.
Iran clearly has designs on ruling most of the Near East, through proxy forces and ideological conformity. Its allies are driven into its camp more by fear than support.
The U.S. needs to build a counter-alliance, built not on power or fear, but hope. Hope for a better life, a more prosperous economy, a freer, more equal society.
This alliance should stretch from Morocco in the West to Iraq in the East and include every Arab land committed to constitutional rule, freedom of religious expression, tariff-free trade, and other core values. Iran can be stopped, without bombs, by ideas and institutions.
Ahmed Charai is a Moroccan Publisher. He sits on the Board of Directors of The Atlantic Council in Washington and International Councillors at The Center for Strategic and International Studies. He's also on the Board of Trustees of the The Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia and member of The National Interest’s Advisory Council. Mr. Charai is a Mid-East policy advisor in Washington whose articles have appeared in the major U.S. media. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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