The Saudi-Iran Conflict Stops Just Short of Full-On War. For Now.

Written by Joshua Keating | Source: Slate | September 16, 2019 04:41 PM
It’s become a familiar story: A U.S. ally in the Middle East is attacked.

Iran is accused of responsibility, but it’s nearly impossible to prove. Talk of retaliation builds in Washington, but nothing ever comes of it, and the situation returns to the status quo until the next crisis.

On Saturday, a large-scale drone attack struck a key Saudi oil facility, disrupting about half the kingdom’s oil capacity. The strike resulted in the suspension of millions of dollars’ worth of oil and gas output, and caused a spike in global energy prices. U.S. officials are pointing the finger at Iran. While the strike was more sophisticated and damaging than previous attacks, open military conflict with Iran is still probably—though by no means certainly—off the table. The question is, how many more of these incidents can the region’s uneasy status quo withstand?

The ongoing conflict pits Iran and its local proxies and allied militias against an uneasy alliance of the U.S., the Sunni Arab Gulf States, and Israel. While the conflict isn’t new, tensions have ratcheted up and become more violent since Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal last year. Since then, there have been multiple attacks against oil tankers in the area—for which the U.S. blamed Iran, but Iran denied—as well as strikes near U.S. facilities in Iraq. Yemen’s Iran-supported Houthi rebels have also claimed responsibility for several attacks on Saudi Arabia, including several targeting oil infrastructure.

Though the Houthis have taken responsibility for Saturday’s attacks, in a series of tweets, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran was behind them and that there was “no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.” U.S. officials have shared photos they say suggest that a combination of drones and cruise missiles were used—which would be more sophisticated than previous Houthi attacks—and that they may have been launched from Iraqi or Iranian territory. Iran has denied responsibility.

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