President Donald Trump of the United States (U.S.) tweeted on September 18, “I have just instructed the Secretary of the Treasury to substantially increase sanctions on the country of Iran!” The U.S. and Iran have been in conflict for a long time, and the relationship was recently aggravated when Iran was suspected as being the real culprit behind the Saudi Arabian oil attack that occurred on September 14. The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated this attack was an “Act of war.” Because the oil industry is highly influential in international society, it cannot be regarded merely as a Saudi Arabian domestic problem and concerns have arisen around the world.
▲ Satellite Picture of Saudi Arabian Oil Attack, Provided by NEWSIS
On September 14, two major oil plants in Saudi Arabia were suddenly attacked by cruise missiles and drones. As a result, nearly 5.7 million barrels of oil were lost, significantly damaging the oil industry of the country. Accordingly, the international oil prices soared for a few days. Houthi rebels, the armed group of Shia Islam, were the initial suspects in the incident because they claimed to be so. However, doubts arose over this claim, and many came to believe that Iran was the actual power behind the attack. This included the U.S. government, who has since increased the economic sanctions on Iran. The President of Iran Hassan Rouhani is currently denying the claims.
Iran as the Suspect Behind the Attack
The Saudi Arabian government presented evidence for Iran being the real offender. The decisive evidence was the missile that the offender used. According to a spokesman of the Saudi Arabia Defense Ministry, the missile came from the north. Because Yemen is located to the south of Saudi Arabia, and Iran the north, it can be presumed that the missiles were launched from Iran. In addition, by evaluating the debris of the missiles found after the attack, the weapons used were presumed to be designed by Iran. From these claims, it seems that the U.S. is also regarding Iran as the attacker. Even before the attack, Iran and Saudi Arabia were at war because of religious conflict, and this adds reliability to the suspicion that Iran conducted the attack.
According to Associated Press (AP) News, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf strongly condemned Iran at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on September 26 by saying that the world should apply “Utmost pressure with every tool available” to sanction Iran. During his speech, the minister stated, “Those attacks are flagrant violations of international laws and regulations. They are violations of international peace and security which constitute a significant threat to global oil supplies.” Saudi Arabia condemned Iran rather directly in front of international society. Foreign Minister al-Assaf added, “We know very well who stood behind this aggression.” He then mentioned that the international society should take a unified position against the Iranian regime.
▲ Debris of Iranian Missile Found in Saudi Arabia, Provided by EURO NEWS
Response from U.S.
The U.S. initially sanctioned Iran before the Saudi attack by exiting the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on May 2018. It has now intensified the sanctions towards Iran economically by striking the central bank of Iran, but President Trump decided not to sanction Iran in a military way. A few days after the oil facility attack, the U.S. sent troops to Saudi Arabia to support the air defense system. The Pentagon announced that the U.S. will send a Patriot missile and a short-range defense air system to Saudi Arabia. The U.S. government emphasized they would only extend the defense system and tried not to trigger further military conflict with Iran.
▲ Professor Kim Sung-han, Photographed by Nam He Bin
According to Professor Kim Sung-han (Division of International Studies), Iran sent two warning messages using the oil attack. One was for the U.S. to stop their economic sanctions of Iran, and one was for Saudi Arabia to being a counterforce of Iran. Furthermore, he interpreted the attack as Iran’s attempt to provoke other European countries engaged in the JCPOA to convince the U.S. to negotiate with them. In addition, as Iran has recognized that U.S. is not willing to enter further military conflicts, Professor Kim said Iran can make additional attacks until the U.S. withdraws sanctions.
Because U.S. has become the world’s largest oil-producing country since they produce shale gas, the country gained independence from obtaining energy resources. Accordingly, the Trump administration started withdrawing troops from the Middle East and changed their policy of indirectly interfering with those countries. Setting Saudi Arabia to counter Iran was one of the strategies that the administration took. Since Iran is the only country that recently gained hegemony in the Middle East, Iran is trying to reorganize the order of the Middle East and the U.S. is trying to halt their actions.
International Society Participating in the Repair Process
The incident is not merely affecting Saudi Arabia, but it may possibly influence the international oil price, which could significantly affect major oil-importing countries. A few days after the incident, the oil price soared, seemingly affecting international society, but it soon calmed down. According to Cable News Network (CNN), international society has already been oversupplying oil, thus the Saudi Arabian incident itself cannot hurt the global economy. Indeed, international oil prices soon stabilized a few days after the attack.
President Moon Jae In made a phone call with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on September 18, soon after the attack. According to Maeil Business Newspaper (MBN), President Moon delivered a message that he feels sorry for the attack and said, “It was an attack that threatens world security, including South Korea.” Fortunately, Saudi Arabia launched a repair process for the damage and the speed of the repairs seems to be faster than expected. The Prince predicted that the oil production levels would recover to 12 million barrels per day by the end of November.
The oil attack incident should be viewed in terms of the changing political situation in the Middle East. It is almost certain that Iran did orchestrate the oil attack. To prevent further terror happening in the Middle East, it is very important to understand the implications of this attack. Resisting the economic sanctions of the U.S., Iran took action that could be unfavorable for the international society, which was to attack Saudi Arabian oil facilities. As Iran is likely to conduct further military provocation in the Middle East, the U.S.-Iran conflict seems that it will continue.