After three weeks of investigations, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Norway briefed the United Nations Security Council on their findings about the recent oil tanker attacks. On May 12, four ships were targeted in Gulf of Oman. While there were no causalities, two Saudi tankers, one Emirati, and a Norwegian ship were damaged.
Immediately following the attacks, government officials in several nations accused Iran of orchestrating the plot, which Tehran vehemently denied. Instead, Iranian officials declared the attacks may have been coordinated by its political adversaries as a ‘false flag’ attack, suggesting Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., and U.S. bombed the tankers in order to provoke Tehran to war.
The report to the Security Council stopped short of identifying the culprit, much less naming Iran.
“While investigations are still ongoing, these facts are strong indications that the four attacks were part of a sophisticated and coordinated operation carried out by an actor with significant operational capacity, most likely a state actor,” according to the document.
However, Abdallah Y. Al-Mouallimi, the Saudi ambassador to the U.N., had no qualms about calling Iran out; blame for the attacks “lies on the shoulders of Iran,” Al-Mouallimi said.
It’s no secret that that the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia would benefit the most from a crippled Iran. Both countries, with U.S. support, are currently engaged in a proxy war against Iran in Yemen. Iranian-backed Houthi rebels are seen as a security threat to Riyadh in particular which has been forced to use anti-missile batteries to defend itself against Houthi missiles fired from Yemen.
Aside from the battle for regional influence, there is also an economic factor at play. U.S. sanctions have devasted Iranian oil exports and by extension, its entire economy. Waivers that Washington had granted to some nations such as Italy, Turkey, and China expired this month. Without these waivers, any nation importing oil from Iran would be in violation of U.S. sanctions and in doing so, would put its relationship with the largest economy in the world at risk. Understandably, all countries that previously held waivers have decided to halt their purchases of Iranian oil, although China did float the idea that it was considering it.
This year, China has been the largest consumer of crude oil from Tehran, accounting for nearly half of Iranian exports. Both the conflict with Iran and the U.S.-China trade war have resulted in Saudi oil exports to China increasing by 43 percent this year alone. During that same time, U.S. exports to Beijing fell 80 percent. Either by design or by coincidence, Saudi Arabia has wound up benefiting from Iran’s misfortune.
While the U.A.E. has preached restraint since the oil tanker attacks (as opposed to Saudi Arabia’s harsher words), the reality of the situation is that it would benefit heavily from labeling Iran as the perpetrator. It has obvious economic benefits, as illustrated above with China, but also politically. As long as the situation with Tehran continues to deteriorate, the likelihood of a deal between the U.S. and Iran also plummets.
It is in the interest of both Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. to prevent any negotiation with Iran.
After Trump tore up the Obama-era nuclear agreement and re-imposed sanctions, there was surprisingly little armed retaliation from Tehran. The Iranian government has a vast network of proxies spread across the region, yet none of them went out of the way to hurt the U.S. outside of normal regional skirmishes. This peaceful atmosphere invites discussion between the two parties, and we’ve even seen Secretary of State Mike Pompeo make an overture to that end recently. This cannot be allowed to happen if Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. wish to maintain their regional dominance. The two Middle Eastern juggernauts generally dictate the outcome of any issue, leveraging their economic influence to flex their power.
Together, they rallied their fellow gulf states to a complete diplomatic and economic embargo of Qatar in 2017 on accusations of support terrorism. Officials from Doha accused them of trying to force a “guardianship” over Qatar, which translates to power and control.
Preventing a new deal between Washington and Trump may only be the first step in eliminating Iran’s regional influence. Next, Iran must be decimated militarily. In order to do so without Western interference, it’s best to simply have Iran attack a U.S. asset, such as an embassy or military conflict. Perhaps it wouldn’t have to even be Iranian, maybe it could be simply staged to implicate Tehran.
The U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia have the perfect man in Washington ready to go to war with Iran: John Bolton, national security advisor to Trump. Famous for arguing that the U.S. should bomb Iran while Obama was negotiating the nuclear agreement, Bolton has been itching for this fight for decades.
For U.S. political interests, and the world’s economy, it’s far better for diplomacy with Iran to prevail, but for it to stick, other Middle Eastern powers have to quit the games and meddling.