Houthi attacks and Iranian threats poised to escalate
On Saturday, 10 explosive drones targeted the Shaybah oil field and a refinery in eastern Saudi Arabia. Were they launched from Yemen, as claimed by the Iran-backed Houthi militia… or from somewhere else, as last time, when investigations revealed that the drones were launched by Iranian militias in Iraq? Were they Chinese, as was the case with some previous aircraft … or Iranian? These questions will be answered once the ongoing investigations are complete.
However, the political and military aspects may be ambiguous. In two separate reports published by Forbes magazine and Bloomberg News agency, it is believed that these attacks did not, and will not, affect oil production or Saudi Arabia’s export capacity; hence, the impact on oil prices and on the oil market is limited, and its influence on Saudi capabilities is ineffective. So, if the attack was meant to politically pressure Saudi Arabia or the US, it has failed.
When I asked a military leader about the changes in Houthi tactics — now that they are resorting to drone attacks, he told me that the main weapon used by the Houthi militia to target Saudi Arabia was ballistic missiles. However, due to the numerous air raids that targeted their warehouses, ongoing pursuit operations, and counter-confrontations, they are now resorting to drones; which are often destroyed before they reach their targets. These drones are being used for propaganda reasons, even if they do hit their targets; but can neither achieve any kind of victory nor change the course of the war.
Years of international slouching toward Iran’s aggression are behind its military expansion
Furthermore, the death toll among the Houthi militia is soaring but, like most Iranian militias, Al-Qaeda and Daesh, they are known for their wanton disregard for the sanctity of human life and for religiously promoting human sacrifices. Front-line fighting has now moved to their stronghold of Sa’dah, near the Saudi border, where they have lost a large number of their leaders, most notably Ibrahim Al-Houthi, the brother of their commander; thus, increasing the political pressure on them.
On the other hand, we cannot overlook the Iranian oil tanker drama. The Grace 1, carrying 2 million barrels of oil bound for Syria, sailed round the Cape of Good Hope to avoid being discovered. The Iranian tanker was seized in Gibraltar and held for six weeks, but the UK was forced to free it after Iranian forces seized a British-flagged tanker in Omani waters.
The tanker incident may seem a losing battle, which is partially true, but Iran is facing bigger problems by transporting oil. Numerous marine service companies have announced the withdrawal of their registry flag from vessels linked to Iran, the latest of which being the Merchant Marine from Panama’s Maritime Authority. Iran was then forced to raise its flag and change the name of the Grace 1 while it was still in custody.
Iran will not concede easily, but will soon tire of war waged against it. We will surely see more attempts to intimidate the world, as it did with Britain, which is actually an extension of four decades of Iranian strategy that has made military activities the pillar of its foreign policy, above all internal and external considerations.
Years of virtual international inaction toward Iran’s aggression have encouraged its military expansion, and its threats to the region and the whole world with nuclear weapons, terrorist operations, control of maritime corridors and launching integrated wars.
So far, Washington is determined to continue exercising considerable pressure on the regime in Tehran. This is a policy unique in its scope and consistency that can, if continued with the same determination, change the behavior of the Supreme Guide’s state for the first time since the Mullah’s seized power in the late 1970s. This means that we have to get used to and face escalating Houthi attacks and expect further Iranian threats against ships, or even worse.
All countries of the region are concerned with the confrontation, particularly the Gulf countries, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, as well as Israel.
- Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Twitter: @aalrashed