One wonders why Middle East and North Africa (MENA) continue to suffer from internal turmoil as well as proxy wars. Some analysts say the single largest reason behind the present turmoil can be ongoing attempts to keep crude oil prices high to facilitate other countries to boost their domestic oil production.
The latest evidence was attack on Aramco facilities in Saudi Arabia to attract high subscription to Initial Public Offering (IPO). The immediate success was, China opting to take US$10 billion stake in one of the largest energy production facility in the world.
Reportedly, Saudi Arabia is making efforts to negotiate an end to the Yemen war by initiating a dialogue with Iran. This move is not likely to be approved by US President Donald Trump, the biggest proponent of maximum pressure on the Islamic republic.
United States Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein pressed Gulf Arab states to reconcile differences and unify military capabilities as tensions with Iran simmer. Washington sees an ongoing dispute that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and non-Gulf state Egypt have with Qatar as a threat to efforts to contain Iran and has pushed for a united front. “No one country has everything it needs to defend itself but together we have exactly what we need for collective defense,” Goldfein said. The US blames Iran for a series of attacks in the Gulf over the summer, including the 14th September 2019 missile and drone attack on Saudi Arabia that temporarily shutdown half the kingdom’s oil production. Washington has unsuccessfully tried to mediate the dispute, in which the four nations have severed political, trade and transport ties with Qatar since mid-2017 over accusations it supports terrorism. Doha denies the charge and says the embargo aims to impinge on its sovereignty. The US is partner to all six Gulf States. Qatar hosts Al-Udeid air base, the largest US military facility in the region, while Bahrain is home to the Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
Saudi officials hope that talks mediated by Oman and Britain between the kingdom and Houthi rebels will lead to a revival of stalled talks between the Yemeni insurgents and the Saudi-backed, internationally recognized government of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has tasked his younger brother and Saudi deputy defense minister, Khalid bin Salman, with engineering an end to the Yemeni war as part of a broader revamp of Saudi foreign policy.
The revamp involves a return to a more cautious foreign and defense policy that embraces multilateralism after several years in which the kingdom adopted an assertive and robust go it alone approach that produced several fiascos, including the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen initiated four and a half years ago. The revamp was prompted by attacks in September on two of the kingdom’s key oil facilities as well as doubts about the reliability of the US defense commitment to the Gulf.
The kingdom’s return to a more cautious approach is also intended to project itself in 2020 as president of the Group of 20 (G20) and repair its image tarnished by the Yemen War, the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, and a domestic crackdown on dissent.
Trump’s response to the September drone and missile attacks for which the Houthis were blames claimed in some ways was the clearest indication that Gulf States may not be able to count on the United States in times of crisis.
US President Donald Trump said that the attack was on Saudi Arabia and the US would certainly help them, but his adoption of a transactional attitude towards Gulf security did upset Saudi Arabia.
It is being propagated by the US that the attacks on Saudi Arabia suggests that escalation of US-Iranian tensions would make them targets in an environment in which the United States may not wholeheartedly come to their rescue.
The US officials are also suggesting that now the Saudi policy is to lessen their involvement in Yemen and to stop Yemen being some version of a proxy so they (the Saudis) can deal directly with Iran.
United Nations Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths told the UN Security Council this week that the number of air attacks by the Saudi-led coalition had dropped by nearly 80% lately.
Griffiths said, “We call this de-escalation, a reduction in the tempo of the war and perhaps a move towards an overall ceasefire in Yemen.” He also expressed hopes that a negotiated end to the war could be achieved early next year.
However, the efforts to end war as well as gestures towards Iran in recent months by the United Arab Emirates did not stop senior Saudi and UAE officials from adopting a hard line.
“Appeasement simply cannot work with Iran. We hold Iran responsible for the attack on Abqaiq. We do not want war, but Iran needs to be held accountable,” said Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir at a Bahrain gathering.
Al-Jubeir’s UAE counterpart, Anwar Gargash added, “The key to stability is deterrence and steadfast resolve of the international community was that Iran must change. If not, sanctions must be increased, not loosened.”