With the release by Iran of Stena Tempero on Monday, the tanker dispute between Iran and the UK reached its easily predictable conclusion. But the Middle East just can’t offer its peoples a chance to breathe a sigh of relief. Thus, the attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities once again put the region and the world on edge. In assigning responsibility, Washington and Riyadh point towards Tehran, the latter denies all charges.
World leaders are now in New York but many questions remain unanswered. Could or couldn’t Iran be totally unaware of the attack? Is it possible for Iran to raise its response to Washington’s “maximum pressure campaign” to such a level? If so, was this a huge gamble or a thorough reading of current international dynamics and US internal politics? If it is not the perpetrator, would Iran at least be likely to know where the attack came from?
While waiting for answers to emerge and some miraculous development at the UN, one can make the following observations:
- Saudi Arabia’s “Operation Decisive Storm” against Yemen’s Houthis, now in its fourth year, has proved a failure.
- Despite its huge investment in defense, Saudi Arabia is vulnerable. The sending of additional US troops only confirms this.
- In recent years, many have drawn attention to Iran’s growing regional outreach. Nobody has made a similar observation regarding Saudi Arabia or the UAE. Beyond Yemen both countries are also involved in Syria and Libya but unable to make a difference.
- In the last decade, parties to Middle East conflicts, without exception, have violated the principles of international law, rules of international good conduct and engaged in “malign activity”. And, as things stand now, Iran appears to be on the winning side but at a very high price for its people.
- The US and some of its traditional and regional allies offered Iran three golden opportunities: the invasion of Iraq, the Syrian civil war and the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen. Iran made good use of them. Thus, the most effective way of getting out of the quagmire and containing Iran would be engaging in multilateral diplomacy to end these conflicts.
- Would Presidents Rouhani and Trump meet at the UN? Though unlikely, such a meeting cannot be ruled out completely.
- Despite the belligerent language used after the attack on Saudi oil facilities Washington seems to appreciate that another conflict would throw the already troubled Middle East into decades of further chaos and disrupt world’s oil supply.
- Refraining from another military confrontation in the Middle East would be a wise choice for the Trump administration regardless of the warlike rhetoric.
- Through its “maximum pressure campaign” Washington has not only put Iran in a corner. It has also limited its own diplomatic options as well. Nonetheless, President Trump’s interest in deals and diplomatic theater may create an opportunity in New York.
- A turnabout would also be difficult for Iran given the nature of its regime. Hopefully at some stage, Tehran would come to the conclusion that it has scored enough points and start cashing in on them within the framework of broad Middle East peace offering its people a better life.
- Among the regional actors, principal losers are former allies Saudi Arabia and Turkey. And not only they have lost, they have become bitter adversaries.
Ali Tuygan, Ambassador (Ret’d) and former Undersecretary of the Turkish Foreign Ministry. The article is also published on his blog.