The recent drone attack in Saudi Arabia's two plants at the heart of the kingdom's oil industry has left the country visibly shaken. Houthi rebels promptly claimed that they were behind the attack, but how credible is that claim? Trump administration is pointing fingers at Iran despite the lack of evidence, yet there hasn't been any comment from the president himself. The allegation is important as well as symbolic, but it is undeniable that the attack will contribute to mounting tension in the region.
The devastating attack came on Saturday (14 September) morning, when two major oil refineries were set ablaze in a drone strike that managed to cut off the country's oil output in half. Yemen's Houthi rebels, Iranian-backed forces, claimed responsibility for the attack, calling it "one of the largest executed by our forces" in Saudi Arabia.
It is evident from the drone attack that Saudi Arabia is vulnerable in terms of security. How this situation will change Saudi Arabia's approach towards neighbouring countries, especially Yemen, is yet to be seen. Their policy could go both ways, on the one hand they might decide to pull out of Yemen, but on the other hand they might decide to strengthen their hold on the small country.
In recent times, Saudi Arabia has maintained an anti-Iran stance in the gulf area with the help of their biggest ally, the US. They have conveniently maintained a near-monopoly on the oil trade while the US keeps placing sanctions on Iran's oil trade. But this attack aided by technology managed to hit them on quite a vulnerable spot.
Oil prices are bound to rise as a consequence of this attack. As Saudi Arabia's oil production will undoubtedly tank for a while, to make up for the deficit US might take one of two measures, 1) the US will put more effort behind producing oil themselves, or 2) they will loosen their sanctions on Iran's oil trade. Rising price of oil will do more harm than good to the US economy, so they will have to choose one of the options.
Donald Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton's name is important to mention here, as his views on Trump's interaction and decisions on the Iran policy is what caused his rift with the President and ultimately resulted in his removal from Trump Administration. This action speaks of a possibility of the Trump administration repairing their relationship with Iran in the future.
While there is the possibility of improved US-Iran relationships in the future, the presence of anti-Iran factions in the Trump administration is still very much present and cannot be ignored. Mike Pompeo is among those who are placing the blame of Saudi drone attack on Iran, while Trump himself stays mum and muddies up the situation.
Undoubtedly, there is the possibility of a new kind of politics growing from this fragile situation in Saudi Arabia. The possibility of peace is there, as well as the possibility of heightened war. It could go both ways.
I think President Trump's stand on this issue will be made clear in the next 48 hours and the opinion of the anti-Iran factions in his administration will also become more prominent. Saudi Arabia has had the support of the US and has felt a sense of safety in this relationship.
Even during the case of Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi, it was expected that the US would put pressure on Saudi Arabia, instead Trump had displayed staunch support for the country. Saudi Arabia's relationship with Israel's incumbent government on the down low is also behind this support. Yet this drone attack has completely blown apart this safety and they've realised their resources have become vulnerable.
Even though this drone attack opens up a chance of meddling, I don't think Russia or China will be involved in the situation. Russia is now playing a major role in discussion with Taliban. Instead of playing a major role in the Middle East, Russia and China would want to keep an eye on Donald Trump's actions.
Dr. Imtiaz Ahmed is a Professor of International Relations in University of Dhaka.