Opinion

The search for answers in light of Iranian aggression

The search for answers in light of Iranian aggression

Author

The region has been in a state of restructuring for years; everything in it has been fighting for survival or change, and the Iranian regime is one of the factors in this change — or, rather, a pickaxe of demolition. Iran’s attack on eastern Saudi Arabia has escalated the conflict to a more dangerous level, so we need to see the full picture. This article is part of the daily discussions and dialogues that I have heard here in the region.

Does the attack on the Saudi oil facilities open up a new war front? The attack was a declaration of war from Iran, but it is not necessarily a new front if the required deterrent balance is secured, including Washington’s pledge to send defensive forces to prevent Iranian attacks or make them less costly. The question is a military-technical one: Can high-tech attacks be monitored and deterred?

Iran is now changing its fronts. In the past, it was fighting from afar, through the Houthis in Yemen. It failed to force Saudi Arabia’s hand with missiles and drones that targeted Riyadh, Jeddah, Taif, Jizan, Najran and other areas, most of which were intercepted. However, the Abqaiq and Khurais attacks showed a new level of Iranian aggression against Saudi Arabia and the whole region, and a dangerous international adventure. Therefore, the desired balance, if successful, would foil Tehran’s strategy of depriving its opponents of oil by destroying facilities and hijacking tankers.

Is the Saudi response to the Iranian attack late? We recall how previous crises were dealt with. After Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990, the response came only in January of the following year. It took five months to secure international legal cover and build a military alliance. Despite the pressure, decision-makers do not want to make hasty decisions without taking into account all the possibilities and trying to secure a strong response with minimal costs. Iran has little to lose. As an oil-producing country, it has used its entire savings to build a war state. The six Gulf countries fear for their industries, services sector and modern cities, and they refrain from military confrontations unless they are forced to act in self-defense.

The Gulf countries refrain from military confrontations unless they are forced to act in self-defense.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

There are those who point to Russia and say that it helped Iran in the attack because it benefited from it. Is that logical? If Iran had no history of aggression, the search for an instigator to blame would have been reasonable. In fact, Russia has not benefited from the Iranian attack. Saudi Arabia managed to compensate the oil shortage within a few days, thwarting Iran’s goal of depriving the world market of its principal source of oil and raising its prices.

The rewards for Russia and other oil-producing countries from a three-day drop in production were minimal. Skeptics may see that Moscow wants to besiege Washington in its traditional spheres of influence, such as the Gulf, and this seems a logical motive in the conflict of the two powers. However, if you look carefully, we can see the opposite. The Iranian attack brought Riyadh and Washington closer together, not the other way round. Even a Republican leader at odds with Riyadh, Sen. Lindsey Graham, lined up with Saudi Arabia and called for a military attack on Iran. Moscow has not benefited from the Iranian attack, at least at this stage, but it has reduced Russia’s room to maneuver.

What about Washington? Could it somehow be involved in a bid to expand the circle of fear in the Gulf and increase its arms sales? Conspiracy theories usually “tickle” simple logic. Washington has no interest in supporting an attack that cripples half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production because it raises prices, which weakens the US economy and threatens President Donald Trump’s chances of re-election. In fact, it is Iran that wants to raise the price of oil, force its rival out of the market and press Trump to lift the US embargo. Moreover, US arms sales to Saudi Arabia are much lower than agreed because of opposition to the Trump administration in Congress. The attempts in Washington have been to reduce the armaments of the Kingdom, not double them.

What about the costs of the new confrontation that Riyadh will incur and Trump has talked about? Well, there are no “free” wars, as most old and new alliances have been paid for; even Arab partners expect to be compensated financially. Yet, money remains the cheapest cost of war.

  • Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Twitter: @aalrashed
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Saudi oil production surges back to 75 percent of pre-attack level

Saudi King Salman and Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa reviewed latest regional developments during their talks in Jeddah on Monday. (SPA)
Updated 24 September 2019

Saudi oil production surges back to 75 percent of pre-attack level

  • We can deal with effects of ‘cowardly sabotage,’ king says of drone and missile attacks
  • Two Aramco plants were hit in drone and missile attacks on Sept. 14 that caused fires and significant damage, halving the country’s oil output

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia has restored more than 75 percent of the production lost after attacks on two oil processing plants and will return to full capacity next week.

The Khurais facility is now producing more than 1.3 million barrels per day and the Abqaiq plant about 3 million, industry sources said. 

Both Aramco plants were hit in drone and missile attacks on Sept. 14 that caused fires and significant damage, halving the country’s oil output. The Kingdom’s ability to quickly restore production demonstrated an important degree of resilience to potentially damaging shocks, the ratings agency Moody’s said.

King Salman said on Monday that Saudi Arabia was able to deal with the effects of what he described as “this cowardly sabotage, that targeted the Kingdom and the stability of global energy supplies.”

He spoke after talks in Jeddah with King Hamad of Bahrain, who denounced the “serious escalation targeting the security and stability of the region.”

Meanwhile, the diplomatic focus on the fallout from the missile strikes moved to New York, where world leaders are gathering for the UN General Assembly. Saudi Arabia and the US have blamed Iran for the attacks, and they were joined on Monday by Britain.

“The UK is attributing responsibility with a very high degree of probability to Iran for the Aramco attacks. We think it very likely indeed that Iran was responsible,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on his way to the US.

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“We will be working with our American friends and our European friends to construct a response that tries to deescalate tensions in the Gulf region,” he said.

However, the UK risks opening a diplomatic rift with other European countries trying to salvage the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for an easing of economic sanctions. Their efforts have so far failed, with the US withdrawing from the deal and reimposing sanctions.

French President Emmanuel Macron has refused to blame Iran for the Aramco attacks. “One must be very careful in attributing responsibility,” he said on his way to New York.

Macron, Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel held talks on Monday to coordinate their Iran strategy before meetings with US President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Gulf states, the US, the Europeans and others needed to engage in “collective diplomacy” to defuse tensions, a senior GCC official said.

“The conversation should no longer be about the JCPOA, but Iran’s missile program and its regional misbehavior, which are as important if not more important — they have the potential to hold the region to ransom,” he said.


Germany mulls how to attract skilled labor from outside EU

Updated 55 min 8 sec ago

Germany mulls how to attract skilled labor from outside EU

  • The new legislation will take effect March 1
  • German official said shortage of skilled workers is currently biggest risk to business

BERLIN: Chancellor Angela Merkel is meeting top German business and union officials on Monday to discuss how to attract skilled workers from outside the European Union as the country tries to tackle a shortfall of qualified labor.
Legislation is due to take effect March 1 making it easier for non-EU nationals to get visas to work and seek jobs in Germany. Arrangements currently applied to university graduates are being expanded to immigrants with professional qualifications and German language knowledge.
“Many companies in Germany are urgently seeking skilled workers, even in times of a weaker economy,” Eric Schweitzer, the head of the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry, told the Funke newspaper group. “For more than half of companies, the shortage of skilled workers is currently the biggest risk to business.”
He called for “unbureaucratic and effective implementation” of the new legislation.
Sectors including information technology and nursing have complained of a shortage of workers.
Monday’s meeting will discuss which countries German business wants to focus on “and we will cut out the bureaucratic hurdles,” Labor Minister Hubertus Heil told RBB Inforadio. He named as examples the process of recognizing professional qualifications, language ability and visa procedures.
Like many other European countries, Germany is trying to strike a balance between the needs of its labor market, an aging native population and concern about immigration.
Heil said that the aim isn’t to undercut German wages and “our problem at the moment is rather that we are not being overrun, that we are not getting qualified workers.”