Tensions Continue To Rise Between Israel And Iran

Tensions between Iran and Israel continue to rise in the aftermath of last week’s drone attack on the oil tanker MV Mercer Street in the Gulf of Oman. Israel, as well as the United States and other Western nations blamed Iran for the attack. Yesterday, the attempted hijacking of another merchant ship in the same area has been linked to Iranian-supported forces in the region. Iran has denied claims made about its alleged involvement in both incidents. Then this morning, on the heels of that latest maritime incident, rockets were launched against Israel from targets in southern Lebanon, prompting counter-battery fire by Israeli artillery in response. By the afternoon, the situation appears to have quieted down, with the commander of UN Interim Force in Lebanon urging both parties to exercise restraint and avoid escalating on the first anniversary of the Beirut Port Explosion.

The Israeli government, however, has not been shy about laying the blame on Iran for recent the recent escalation in tensions around the region. At present, Israel is attempting to rally international action on Iran in response to last week’s attack on the Mercer Street. “We are working to rally the world, but at the same time we also know to act alone,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has stated. The meaning behind the last part of his statement serves as a warning to Iran and the world as well. If the international community is reluctant to take effective action against Iran, Israel act unilaterally.

Ending Hostilities In Yemen Will Not Be So Easy

After Sunday’s drone and missile attacks against oil facilities and other targets in Saudi Arabia, the United States expressed alarm at the ‘genuine security threats’ the Saudis are facing from Yemeni-based and Iranian supported Houthi rebels. Not to sound facetious, but I honestly do not understand why the Biden administration is just now waking up to the realization that the Houthi rebels pose a danger to Saudi Arabian territory and economic interests. This past weekend saw Saudi Arabia’s largest oil export terminal at the port of Ras Tanura targeted. No damage was caused to the terminal, but fragments from an exploding ballistic missile did fall on the nearby ARAMCO facility.

Sunday was not the first time that the Houthis launched drone and missile attacks against economic targets inside of the Kingdom. The attack against the Abqaiq facility in 2019 caused considerable damage and affected Saudi Arabia’s oil production. The most recent attacks are not expected to have an effect on either production, or oil prices beyond today. Yet the attacks have helped to demonstrate how complicated ending the civil war in Yemen will be. The Houthis are clearly not prepared to talk peace right now, as this weekend revealed.

The White House has apparently noticed this, and the Biden administration sounds downright miffed. “We continue to be alarmed by the frequency of Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia. Escalating attacks like these are not the actions of a group that is serious about peace,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told a press conference.

Well, to be fair, its probably not entirely the Houthis decision whether or not they come to the peace table. Tehran has reestablished its influence with the Yemeni-based group and is calling the shots once again. The US has not helped the prospects of ending the war in Yemen much lately either. Last month the Biden administration removed US support for Saudi military operations inside of Yemen. Though a bit naïve, the move was an act of good faith. Unfortunately, it has had almost the exact opposite effect and is enticing the Houthis to resume attacks on the economic infrastructure of Saudi Arabia.

The Biden administration will eventually learn how to navigate the Yemen quagmire, but it is coming at a cost.

Iran-Backed Rebels Launch Massive Drone Attack on Saudi Oil Facilities

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Iranian-supported Houthi rebels targeted Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure on Saturday morning with drone attacks against a major oil-processing facility, and an oil field owned by ARAMCO. These attacks have caused substantial damage and appear set to have a major effect on oil markets. The Saudi government has announced it will be shutting down roughly half of its oil production for the moment. This translates to around 5 million barrels of crude oil a day, which is roughly 5% of daily global oil production. The attacks are an unprecedented effort against global energy supplies, and have revealed the vulnerability of Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf nations oil infrastructure.

Iran is undoubtedly behind this attack, using its Houthi rebel proxy as a viable front. The Saudis have endured dozens of drone attacks initiated by the Houthis in recent years. None have been as economically damaging as this one. For Tehran, this attack comes days after the European Union’s failure to ease US economic sanctions currently in place against Iran. Many reports have surfaced alluding to the possibility of President Trump easing sanctions. If true, this likely had something to do with the resignation of John Bolton, who is a fierce hawk on Iran.

This morning’s attacks achieve two goals: It degrades Saudi oil production and negatively affects the oil market. There will be a slight period of economic distress, however it will not linger. Geopolitically, decisions have to be made soon. This is a direct attack on Saudi territory, and its economic capabilities by Iran. Riyadh can see beyond the Houthi front. The question for Riyadh is: How to respond?

The United States will have a say in the matter as well. As the ‘Maxium Pressure’ campaign against Iran continues to bring success, Tehran is becoming increasingly desperate. A show of military force may be needed to deter Iran from going any farther in its efforts. Or, the Saudis could decide to strike Iranian oil producing facilities on their own in retaliation. With luck, the coming hours will reveal just what direction the Saudis, and United States are leaning in, with regards to a possible response.