The fallout from the September attack on Saudi Arabia’s Aramco oil facilities is continuing to reverberate throughout the Middle East, sidelining old enmities — sometimes for new ones — and re-drawing traditional alliances. While Turkey’s recent invasion of northern Syria is grabbing the headlines, the bigger story may be that major regional players are contemplating some historic re-alignments.
After years of bitter rivalry, the Saudis and the Iranians are considering how they can dial down their mutual animosity. The formerly powerful Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) of Persian Gulf monarchs is atomizing because Saudi Arabia is losing its grip. And Washington’s former domination of the region appears to be in decline.
Some of these developments are long-standing, pre-dating the cruise missile and drone assault that knocked out 50 percent of Saudi Arabia’s oil production. But the double shock — Turkey’s lunge into Syria and the September missile attack — is accelerating these changes.
Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, recently flew to Iran and then on to Saudi Arabia to lobby for de’tente between Teheran and Riyadh and to head off any possibility of hostilities between the two countries. “What should never happen is a war,” Khan said, “because this will not just affect the whole region…this will cause poverty in the world. Oil prices will go up.”
According to Khan, both sides have agreed to talk, although the Yemen War is a stumbling block. But there are straws in the wind on that front, too. A partial ceasefire seems to be holding, and there are back channel talks going on between the Houthis and the Saudis.
The Saudi intervention in Yemen’s civil war was supposed to last three months, but it has dragged on for over four years. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was to supply the ground troops and the Saudis the airpower. But the Saudi-UAE alliance has made little progress against the battle-hardened Houthis, who have been strengthened by defections from the regular Yemeni army.
Air wars without supporting ground troops are almost always a failure, and they are very expensive. The drain on the Saudi treasury is significant, and the country’s wealth is not bottomless.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is trying to shift the Saudi economy from its over-reliance on petroleum, but he needs outside money to do that and he is not getting it. The Yemen War — which, according to the United Nations is the worst humanitarian disaster on the planet — and the Prince’s involvement with the murder and dismemberment of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, has spooked many investors.