Attack on oil installations in Saudi Arabia cross a dangerous threshold
The attack on two oil facilities in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia marks a dangerous escalation of the conflict that was started by Yemen’s Houthi rebels when they revolted against the legitimate government of Yemen. Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility for the attack. But there are other angles that need to be explored before identifying the forces which made it possible for the rebels to strike two Aramco facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais on Saturday. The two facilities account for 5 per cent of the world’s oil production.
The attacks disrupted the Saudi crude oil production by a magnitude of 5.7 million barrels per day or about half of the Kingdom’s oil capacity.
Have the Houthis acted alone in carrying out this attack, which was intended to cripple the Saudi capacity for oil production and exporting? Was Iran involved in the planning and execution of the attack? Was Iraq’s territory used by the many Iran-backed militant outfits operating in that country to strike the two oil fields in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province?
The Kingdom would not be expected to watch the destruction of its assets at the hands of the Houthi rebels and not respond with full force to weaken and defeat those who are out to create turmoil, chaos and instability in the region.
The possibility of that conflict can be seen on the horizon, considering the enormous trust deficit that exists in the region. Any miscalculation can generate a limited war that would destabilize the whole area.
If it is established by credible evidence that Iran had a role in the attacks then the Kingdom would be justified in taking such action that would punish the perpetrators of the crime and ensure that such strikes do not happen in the future. On the other hand, if it is shown or proved to be the work of Yemani rebels alone, then a swift and deterrent punishment for the Houthi terrorists would not only be justified but also warranted.
If it is established by credible evidence that Iran had a role in the attacks then the Kingdom would be justified in taking such action that would punish the perpetrators of the crime and ensure that such strikes do not happen in the future.
Rustam Shah Mohmand
The implications of even a limited conflict would be severe. Oil supplies will be interrupted; the Strait of Hormuz could be closed which would produce a world wide shortage of oil. Global economy could face a long recession, which would generate a host of issues ranging from unemployment to turmoil to crime, including cyber crime, to political chaos in poor countries and a breakdown of security in various parts of the world. These are harrowing implications to imagine for a world that is still grappling with the effects of the post-2001 war on terror.
The role of the United States is crucial. China can play a very positive and constructive role too. All endeavors must be made to prevent the outbreak of hostilities . Even if some skirmishes take place there must be an immediate intervention to ensure any limited military engagements would be just that. This is not easy but because the stakes are high, all regional countries would be expected to play a role in diffusing tensions.
Pakistan can only play a very limited role because firstly it does not have a government that fully enjoys widespread support of the masses and secondly, it has major problems of its own on its eastern border and in Kashmir. But it can soften the situation in Riyadh and Tehran in order to create conditions to prevent a war. Islamabad has only recently begun to receive a loan of $3 billion from the Kingdom; its military is deployed in Saudi Arabia. There should be no ambiguity in the brotherly relations between the two countries. That relationship would come under strain if there is a conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
It is time for powers like the US, the EU, and China to immediately engage with the concerned countries in the region to avoid a conflict that would damage not only the economies of the region but would generate a worldwide cycle of a monstrous recession.
– Rustam Shah Mohmand is a specialist of Afghanistan and Central Asian Affairs. He has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan and also held position of Chief Commissioner Refugees for a decade.