Slip­pery slope

Af­ter the at­tackc on Saudi Ara­bia’s oil pro­duc­tion, the U.S. and Iran flirt with war

Dünya Executive - - COVER PAGE - Il­ter TURAN Colum­nist IN­TER­VIEW: ADNAN R. KHAN

It was bound to hap­pen: af­ter months of es­ca­la­tory be­hav­iors be­tween the U.S. and Iran, a ma­jor at­tack on Saudi Ara­bia’s oil pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ties have pushed the stand­off to dan­ger­ous lev­els. The U.S. blames Iran for the at­tack. On Septem­ber 18, Pres­i­dent Trump tweeted that the U.S. would ratchet up al­ready crippling sanc­tions on Iran. In re­sponse, the Ira­ni­ans have de­nied any in­volve­ment and Ay­a­tol­lah Khamanei has said any talks with U.S. are now off the ta­ble. Why was this at­tack such a piv­otal mo­ment in the grow­ing ten­sions be­tween the U.S and Iran and what does it tell us about the fu­ture of the Mid­dle East?

►Adnan R. Khan: How does this at­tack change the dy­nam­ics of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the U.S. and the Saudis on one side and Iran on the other?

Il­ter Turan: This at­tack was al­legedly car­ried out by Houthi rebels based in Ye­men us­ing drones on Saudi oil pro­cess­ing plants. The im­me­di­ate ef­fect has been a drop in Saudi Ara­bia’s oil pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity and a rise in oil prices. That in it­self af­fects the en­tire world. Sud­denly, this on­go­ing con­flict in Ye­men be­tween Saudi Ara­bia and the Houthi tribes­men has ac­quired a sig­nif­i­cance which it did not have be­fore. Peo­ple have tended to look at the war as be­tween peo­ple in dis­tant places fight­ing each other for rea­sons that they are un­able to com­pre­hend. Now, they are dis­cov­er­ing that this far­away war has im­me­di­ate im­pli­ca­tions for their daily lives.

Do­mes­ti­cally, Saudi Ara­bia now feels it’s not as se­cure as it thought it was. There had been some ques­tion as re­gards the com­pe­tence of Saudi forces in Ye­men but now this adds an­other di­men­sion to it. Ob­vi­ously, in the face of what the Saudis per­ceive to be a ma­jor Ira­nian threat, these sorts of fail­ures in the field are re­ally scary. The Saudis have put all their eggs into the Amer­i­can bas­ket. They were mak­ing moves to strengthen their po­si­tion against Iran but now their weak­nesses are ex­posed and they are in­ter­ested in get­ting more Amer­i­can sup­port. But it’s un­clear what kind of sup­port the Amer­i­cans are will­ing to pro­vide. By all in­di­ca­tions, there seems to be a sig­nif­i­cant re­luc­tance on the part of the Amer­i­can pub­lic to sup­port any ex­ter­nal ad­ven­tures by send­ing Amer­i­can troops.

The other thing is that, of course, Mr. Trump had been en­cour­aged in his po­si­tion to a con­sid­er­able ex­tent by Is­rael, which also feels threat­ened by Iran. But now the Is­raeli elec­tion re­sults have put the prin­ci­ple pro­po­nent of a hos­tile pol­icy against Iran - Mr. Ne­tanyahu - in jeop­ardy. It’s not cer­tain that he will come back as the prime min­is­ter and it’s even pos­si­ble that he will end up in jail.

►Adnan R. Khan: Iran does seem to be in a strong po­si­tion, iron­i­cally. What mes­sage do you think it is send­ing with this at­tack?

Il­ter Turan: Firstly, let’s keep in mind that Iran has de­nied in­volve­ment in the at­tack. That does not nec­es­sar­ily mean that the weaponry used was not se­cured from Iran but the world mar­ket for weapons is rather broad and some­times it’s even pos­si­ble for an ac­tor to ac­quire such weaponry sim­ply by us­ing the right chan­nels and pay­ing the right price. So, one should not be too hasty in mak­ing judg­ments about Iran.

With that said, as­sum­ing for the mo­ment Iran was in­volved in some ca­pac­ity, what’s clear is that the Ira­nian regime has been em­bold­ened by the fact that it has faced threats from a num­ber of coun­tries de­mand­ing Iran do this or that but not de­liv­er­ing on those threats. There­fore, Iran may have judged that rea­son­ably it is at lib­erty to press its own agenda, to show that it has the means to in­flict sig­nif­i­cant harm on its ad­ver­saries. It is a way of say­ing: Look, we are here and we can do a lot of dam­age if you do not take us se­ri­ously. This mes­sage is di­rected mostly to the U.S. but the world will also take no­tice be­cause of oil prices. All na­tions are equally in­ter­ested in en­sur­ing that no hot con­flict should threaten the oil sup­ply. Ba­si­cally, as­sum­ing that the ac­tion is Ira­nian based, the mes­sage is: Be care­ful be­cause with lit­tle weaponry, a lot of penalty can be in­flicted on the world.

►Adnan R. Khan: Then there is the do­mes­tic an­gle for Iran. I was speak­ing to some of my Ira­nian contacts and they told me there is a lot of sup­port for this strike on Saudi Ara­bia. Ira­ni­ans were cel­e­brat­ing. They told me there has been a spike in Ira­nian na­tion­al­ism over the past year, since the U.S. pulled out of the nu­clear deal and re-im­posed sanc­tions. If the per­pe­tra­tor was Iran, how much did do­mes­tic pol­i­tics play a role?

Il­ter Turan: There are two di­men­sions to the Ira­nian po­si­tion. Num­ber one, there seems to be no in­di­ca­tion that the Ira­ni­ans were vi­o­lat­ing the nu­clear agree­ment but the Amer­i­cans uni­lat­er­ally de­cided that Iran was in vi­o­la­tion of that agree­ment and re-im­posed sanc­tions. Un­der­stand­ably, this forced all Ira­ni­ans to turn against the U.S. and rally be­hind their govern­ment. At the same time, hard­lin­ers in the Ira­nian regime were al­ways op­posed to the nu­clear deal, ac­cus­ing the govern­ment of be­ing too lib­eral and too ac­com­mo­dat­ing to what es­sen­tially is an ad­ver­sary. When the U.S. pulled out of the deal, the hard­lin­ers ar­gued that de­vel­op­ments had proven them right and they tried to use the sit­u­a­tion to their ad­van­tage. In short, re-imposing sanc­tions has si­mul­ta­ne­ously caused hard­ships among the pop­u­la­tion, guided the masses to rally be­hind their govern­ment with na­tion­al­ist fer­vor and has given the hard­lin­ers the op­por­tu­nity to bol­ster their political stand­ing.

►Adnan R. Khan: The weak­est party in all this seems to be Saudi Ara­bia. Its rep­u­ta­tion is in tat­ters right now. It’s share in global oil out­put is di­min­ish­ing. One has to ask: Are the Saudis rel­e­vant any­more?

Il­ter Turan: If you’re strength de­rives only from one thing and you lose that thing, you lose your strength. Saudi Ara­bia’s sta­tus in the in­ter­na­tional sys­tem is ex­clu­sively based on oil and the money oil has brought it. It has sur­vived as an in­ter­na­tional player mostly by pur­chas­ing weapons and lux­ury goods abroad, giv­ing gifts or of­fer­ing cred­its. These have given it an ex­ag­ger­ated po­si­tion in the in­ter­na­tional sys­tem. Now that po­si­tion is lev­el­ing out to where it should be. This at­tack has laid bare Saudi Ara­bia’s vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties and shown that the only way it can elim­i­nate those vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties is to be at peace with its neigh­bors.

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