Naveed Aman Khan
THE 9/14 drone attacks on Saudi Aramco oil have shocked KSA. It was a direct tactful strike in disguise to the Saudi economic nerve centre as the attack affected six percent of the global oil production estimated at 5.7 million barrels per day and almost fifty percent of Saudi oil production per day. Saudi Arabia has blamed Iran’s connivance in the attacks and showed debris of missiles and drones with Iranian markings. America and KSA have clearly and directly blamed Iran for the attacks. Soon after the attack, the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo accused Iran of attacks. America is not ruling out of taking any military action against Iran. Jawad Zarif has advised KSA to mend fences with the Houthis. He has warned that any US or KSA military strike would cause all-out war.
The tension between KSA and Iran has emerged at a time when the Middle East is witnessing substantive changes including defeat of ISIS; a much better understanding between Iran, Turkey and Russia on Syria; and likely emergence of a strategic alliance between Iran, China and Russia. In a nutshell, Iran has positioned itself in a manner to secure its national security and brace up for bigger challenges emanating from KSA with the backing of America. A confrontationist posture towards Iran would be full of challenges for KSA. It is already entangled in Yemen war whose end is not in sight while KSA credibility as a Gulf region’s big and influential power has received a big jolt. Even the UAE is not satisfied with the ongoing campaign against Yemen and would be too happy and eager to wriggle out. The Houthis have also warned that the UAE would be next in line and that they have identified targets in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The biggest gainer in the deteriorating situation between Iran and KSA would be the US military-industrial complex.There are chances that the war between the two Middle Eastern giants may engulf other neighbouring states. The world is likely to face steep rise in oil prices; interruption in smooth supply of oil from the region which accounts for 40% of world supplies may plunge the world in severe recession. It would definitely spell disaster for oil importing countries, especially Pakistan. KSA and Iran should rethink about fighting proxy wars in Muslim countries to gain influence. Their involvement has only aggravated the sectarian problems in those countries; growing sectarianism is breeding extremism and becoming a source of instability all around the Muslim world promoting anti-Muslim feelings at the global level. Another intriguing question is about efficacy of missile defence system which KSA acquired from the US. Either missile defence systems were inefficient to detect and neutralize incoming drones or some stealth technology was used to attack KSA installations with precision. President Putin, while in Ankara, has offered Russian missile defence system to KSA. He also demanded thorough and impartial investigations into incident, warning the Americans not to push allegations against Iran without proof.
The US plans for regime change, have not succeeded as US’ bellicose attitude has further strengthened the position of the ruling clergy in the country. The US and other detractors’ hope that deteriorating economic situation in Iran may force the people to come out on the streets has also failed. In fact, American sanctions have created anti-US sentiments in the country and the people blame the US sanctions responsible for their miseries. Iranian dissidents living abroad and inside the country have also failed to capitalize on the situation. The US faces a dilemma if the situation aggravates. The US involvement in different military fronts would dampen the chances of US boots on the ground in the Gulf. This would mean induction of troops from the neighbourhood, including Pakistan. Before taking the extreme measure, KSA will have to realize the consequences of a direct confrontation.
Prudence demands statesmanship by KSA and Iran. It is not a coincidence that only Muslim countries are the hotspots of turmoil while non-Muslim world is thriving with peace and prosperity. Iran should raise the confidence level of Gulf States through cooperation and concord rather than using sectarian card to cause problems in monarchies where Shias are a substantive minority. The dubious game of regime change in Iran or Iran’s efforts to cause unrest in Gulf States by playing the sectarian card will have to stop if peace is intended in the region. For Pakistan, it’s going to be a tightrope walking, as both KSA and Iran are important Muslim countries.
Premier Imran Khan, during his meeting with KSA Crown Prince MBS has strongly condemned the drone attacks and expressed solidarity with the Kingdom. He would be striving hard to bring both Iran and KSA to the negotiating table. IK can assure security assistance to Saudis within their borders but should not commit troops to cross the Persian Gulf. Pakistan needs to be very careful in this situation and should not poke its nose in KSA-Iran conflict as we share border with Iran. We need not be party to any country. Pakistan needs to balance its foreign policy by all means. It is the test of political and diplomatic capabilities of IK and Shah Mehmood Qureshi. The situation is very complex. It seems that attacks are not executed by Iran at the stage when situation is already against it. Such adventure seems very unwise and illogical from Iranian point of view. Iranians don’t look unwise enough to go for drone attacks and welcome more havoc in the region. It looks these attacks are tactfully executed in disguise to trap and entangle Iran.
— The writer is book ambassador, columnist, political analyst and author of several books based in Islamabad.