The Attack on Shaybah and the Middle East’s Secret Wars

Last week’s Houthi attack on the Shaybah oil fields, as well as the recent fall of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria, marks a turning point in the war that is consuming the Middle East. It is a complex war fought on several fronts, at various levels, with Iran and the Shiite militias (located in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq) opposing the Saudis, the Americans and Israelis.

Impasse in the Iranian conflict

The direct conflict, which sees the United States at loggerheads with Iran (following the termination of the nuclear treaty signed with Tehran), has come to a halt following various critical issues.

Currently, the US is limiting itself to the search for support in escorting oil tankers in transit from the Strait of Hormuz.

The real reason for this task is unclear, and certainly there is a hidden agenda.  However, it is difficult to imagine that it could actually be effective. In reality, the difficulty of recruiting support seems only a ploy to delay matters.

Trump does not want this war, but he is not able to overcome the opposing forces, nor can he cancel out what has been done so far. It will take time for him to find a way out of this dead end.

The Wait

Therefore, Trump is doing something else. His full concentration is on China, with whom he would also not want a head-on confrontation, has had the desired result of diverting US attention away from the Middle East, according to Haaretz.

In a similar vein, we can also include the US’ spat with Denmark over the purchase of Greenland, amongst others. These ad-hoc controversies are causing havoc for those who are trying to bring the focus of the US administration back to Tehran.

The deadlock means that compromise can be explored, such as that agreed between Putin and Macron, at the crux of the recent talks between the French president and the Iranian foreign minister, considered “constructive” by the latter.

However, to break the deadlock, it seems likely that it will be necessary to wait until 17th September, the date of the Israeli elections, which put Netanyahu’s ten-year reign in doubt for the first time. It was Netanyahu who prompted Trump to terminate the Iranian nuclear agreement, with the consequences we well know, Haaretz says.

Netanyahu will be able to come out of the elections stronger, or could be more reasonable, just as he could lose. The re-organisation of the Israeli political framework will have a major influence on the wider situation in the Middle East.


During the period of deadlock, three developments have occurred in this war of attrition. Firstly, as mentioned previously, was the attack on Shaybah carried out by Houthi rebels, a Yemenite Shiite militia fighting a war against the Saudi-led coalition supported by the US.

Shaybah is strategically vital to Aramco, the most important oil company in Riyadh. Never before has Saudi territory been attacked so severely: this means that the Saudi oil industry is at risk. This development makes Riyadh more vulnerable, and could push it towards opening up to negotiations.

That said, the Yemeni war also appears to be linked to the outcome of the Israeli elections, given the ties between Netanyahu and the Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman.

Israel, the US and Iraqi Militias

Alongside the context of the conflict with Iran comes the bombing of a large deposit of weapons belonging to Iraqi Shiite militias – which follows other similar episodes.

Haaretz attributes it to Israel, and underlines the most important aspect of the episode – that is, how much it was feared by a senior US official, who, in a comment to the New York Times, expressed American fears over Israeli operations against local militias.

In fact, these actions could push Iraq, where Shiite influence is strong, to demand the withdrawal of US troops stationed there, which would be a setback for the United States. Because of this, some bad blood is running between Washington and Tel Aviv.

Green Light for Khan Sheikhoun

Within the Middle Eastern conflict there is a new Syrian episode, following the conquest by the Syrians (and Russians) of Khan Sheikhoun, a key city in the Idlib enclave controlled by al Qaeda.

Leaving aside the strategy, two points should be highlighted. So far, an attack on Idlib, long an objective of Damascus, has been opposed, mainly by significant humanitarian appeals, which have blocked it several times. There was no similar appeal for Raqqa, which the USA treated like Dresden, says the Guardian.

Trump had even declared that he was ready to defend it, in a bizarre alliance with al Qaeda. However, the latest offensive has gone unopposed: an international “green light” is evident.

During the battle, there was also a Syrian attack on a Turkish convoy intended to rescue the militia. Putin tacitly endorsed it, although in doing so, he risked damaging his relations with Turkey.

He thus reiterated his previous position: being patient with the excessive ambitions of Ankara over its neighbouring country is not an approval at the expense of Damascus’s aspirations to regain sovereignty over its lost territory.

In summary, because of the deadlock, the Iran-US regional conflict will bring future developments.

Translation by Laura Flower.

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