Drone Strike on Saudi Oil Heightens Tensions Between U.S. and Iran

A map of Khurais oil field and Buqyaq in Saudi Arabia. (Wikimedia Commons)

A map of Khurais oil field and Buqyaq in Saudi Arabia. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Trump administration’s response to the recent missile strike against Saudi Arabia has drawn the public eye and exacerbated tensions in the Persian Gulf. An unidentified drone attack was carried out against an oil processing plant owned by Saudi Arabia on September 14. The strike incapacitated the plant and cut Saudi oil production in half. 

These attacks have become the most recent proxy issue amid increasing tensions between Washington and the Iranian government. Saudi Arabia has been a key ally with the United States for decades, which imports nine percent of its oil from Saudi Arabia. While Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility for the strike, U.S. officials rejected these claims, instead alleging that Iranian forces are to blame. 

U.S. allegations have been met with resistance from both Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran denies any involvement with the attack, and Saudi Arabia disputes U.S. claims, citing a lack of thorough evidence.

This is only the most recent iteration of anti-Iran statements by the Trump administration. Frequent threats of military action, economic sanctions, and inflammatory rhetoric mark the relations between the two countries. Tensions escalated during the Trump administration, beginning with Trump’s abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal concluded by President Barack Obama in 2015, and followed by reinstatement of sanctions. The conflict reached a new high in early summer 2019 when the U.S. blamed attacks against oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on Iran.

The U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia has been a point of controversy and several U.S. politicians have criticized Saudi Arabia for its policies, both at home and abroad. Saudi Arabia has been a key player in prolonging the civil war in Yemen, a conflict with human tolls reaching into the tens of thousands. In April, Congress passed a resolution pledging to end U.S. support of the war, a measure Trump will most likely veto in order to preserve relations with Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, the assassination of journalist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul brought significant international coverage. Despite the controversy, oil interests have kept the U.S. as a firm supporter of the regime. 

The United States’s historical intervention in Iran has created deep-seated mistrusts. The malevolence began in 1953 when U.S. forces ousted the democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq and worsened in 1979 when Iranian protests held U.S. citizens hostage within the embassy. While the Obama administration pursued a de-escalation with the Iran nuclear deal, the Trump administration has reversed these measures and exacerbated tensions. 

These rising tensions have created international anxiety at the threat of war between the two powers. While the Trump administration has not given any indication of immediate military action, the message to Iran remains the same: “locked and loaded.”