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Iran is being crushed by sanctions. Is that its reason to attack Saudi Arabia?

PortandTerminal.com, September 20, 2019

WASHINGTON – While Iran has officially denied responsibility for last week’s attacks on Saudi oil facilities, the likelihood of its involvement at some level is probable. Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who have the claimed the attacks, are closely aligned with and funded by Iran. It is unlikely that an attack of this sophistication and magnitude could have taken place without at minimum Iran’s blessing and perhaps much more than that. Investigations are underway.

Why would Iran do it though? What is their end game in risking a larger conflict by attacking Saudi Arabia, one that they would certainly lose?

Desperation

Iran’s oil exports are close to zero, its revenue stream is drying up, and its reserves of hard currency are thought to be sufficient only for several more months. The fall in the value of its currency has pushed the inflation rate to 40% and almost halved the purchasing power of Iranians, who are finding it difficult to make ends meet.

Iran’s economy has nose-dived and it is its people who are paying the price

The Iranian Parliament’s Research Center published a report in which figures for the next 12 months show that between 23 and 40 percent of Iran’s population will soon be living under the absolute poverty line.

Attacks on Saudi Arabia a “Hail Mary” pass?

One theory being batted about is that Iran may have attacked Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities last weekend as a sort “Hail Mary” play out of desperation.

Saudi Arabia and its allies believe Iran has raised the stakes in order to convince US President Donald Trump to ease the crippling economic sanctions he reinstated when he abandoned a nuclear deal with Iran last year and demanded a new one be negotiated.

‘The attacks could show that, if Iran is prevented from exporting its own oil, it will disrupt the global oil market in return.’ Smoke rising from the Abqaiq oil facility, Saudi Arabia. Photograph: AP

Did Iran’s leaders hope that the risk of the region sliding into war will bring world powers to the realisation that the sanctions are a recipe for disaster?

They had been hoping that a plan by French President Emmanuel Macron to offer a $15bn line of credit to Iran, in return for its compliance with the nuclear deal and a halt to its destabilising activities in the region, would come to fruition. But the plan has not been approved by Mr Trump.

On Wednesday, the US president asked his treasury secretary to substantially increase the sanctions against Iran. Iran may, therefore, have overplayed its hand.

Ultimately, whether or not Iran was behind the attack on Saudi Arabia, this situation presents a double-edged sword for Tehran: the effects of the attack and what it potentially signals about Iranian power could bolster Tehran’s position ahead of potential talks at the UN General Assembly. Alternatively, there is the risk of serious escalation – and at the very least, the possibility that the prospect of a return to the negotiating table, and ultimately relief from sanctions, will be undermined.

Meanwhile, it’s the Iranian people who continue to suffer.

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