The headline was not comforting: “Saudi attack photos implicate Iran, US says; Trump hints at military action” (New York Times, September 15). There are so many fuses running out of string over there in the Middle East that the slightest misjudgment could lead to a conflagration.
The language is careful, but an impatient edge has crept into the public expressions. One can only imagine the degree of heat behind closed doors. Standing down may not be an option, even amid conflicting signals. The hawks grow ferocious. This is pushing things too far; this is testing the resolve of the US and its Saudi partner. Both are struggling, rather unconvincingly, with restraint. There is fear that weakness is conveyed or open invitation tendered for more such attacks. Anyway looked at, it is a big problem.
The problem is that retaliatory action, no matter how limited, is sure to unleash a chain reaction of counter contingencies that may then be unmanageable. Another promise, more of a threat, came from the supposed Yemeni rebels, of additional attacks on the sensitive vulnerable Saudi Arabian oil industry. A new dangerous dimension introduced to previously off-limits facilities. Such would be unpardonable and cannot go unpunished long.
Intelligence and satellite evidence are being pieced together, and in American minds they point unerringly in one direction only, Iran. As of today, the die is drawing closer to being cast, with hostile voices indicating a battery of weapons employed against the Abqaiq complex — “a lot of them,” according to one senior US official. It fuels beliefs that “such would indicate a degree of scope, precision and sophistication beyond the ability of the Houthi rebels alone.”
Now the talk is blunt: “Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked,” the US leader said in a tweet. “There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded…but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!” Though brandished before, “locked and loaded” represents an increasingly tougher, more inflexible commitment; almost foregone, and dangerously so.
“Iran wants to show that instead of a win-lose contest, Iran can turn this into a lose-lose dynamic for everyone,” said Ali Vaez, head of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group. “Plausible deniability is a trademark of Iran’s pushback strategy,” Mr. Vaez said. None of this holds out strong hopes of finding solutions this time around. Lose-lose means unpalatability and “plausible deniability” lacks believability. The stakes were raised higher Saturday.
The Wall Street Journal warned that the “Saudi attack is the big one” (September 15). The hawkish Journal, which saw the firing of John Bolton as caving in towards softer approaches, in true business fashion turned its attention to the impact on markets. The worry is that there will be immediate escalations in the world of energy prices. That was on the money, with oil prices taking off and pressure building for more price spikes.
That was bound to happen, when in one fell swoop, some “5.7 million barrels a day of output, or some 5% of world supply, had been taken offline as a result.”
Whoever is the intellectual sponsor and ultimately responsible, this much is incontestable: oil facilities – be they production networks or laden tankers or pumping stations – all possess the vulnerability of sitting ducks. In truth, they are near defenseless. Mere rumours of this seizure or another strike could send the energy markets racing towards a hundred dollars a barrel. Guyana beware! Pain easing and returning.
As the Journal pointed out, “traders may now need to factor in new risks that threaten to take not hundreds of thousands but millions of barrels off the market at a time.”
It promises to be a rollercoaster ride. Unfortunately, that would not be a joyride for Guyanese workers, families, producers, and consumers. They already struggle feebly against a tide of political senility, business uncertainty, and price instability.
War may erupt over this development in Saudi Arabia; it may be the opportunity long sought by the fundamentalists on both sides. This means the struggles of living locally will intensify, if only from the sweep and reach of events. First stop: the cost-of-living environment.
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