Saudi-Iranian tensions testing OPEC accord

Nov. 7, 2017
Tension is rising between Saudi Arabia and Iran through a succession of events leading to accusations of warlike behavior.

Tension is rising between Saudi Arabia and Iran through a succession of events leading to accusations of warlike behavior.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman said Iran committed “an act of war” after a missile launched in Yemen on Nov. 4 was destroyed before reaching its target in Riyadh. Bin Salman said Iran supplied the missile to its Houthi rebel proxies in Yemen—a charge Iran denied.

The countries are among 12 Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries members limiting oil production to defend the price of crude. Saudi Arabia leads that effort, which Iran agreed to join after being allowed a slight increase in output.

With relations between the traditional antagonists fraying anew, the oil market must accommodate conflicting possibilities: collapse of the OPEC agreement leading to unbridled supply and further escalation of hostilities leading to warfare and physical threats to production.

Oil prices were rising on news from the region even before the missile attack.

Bin Salman made his charges against Iran only days after arresting 11 Saudi princes, 4 government ministers, and numerous former officials and business leaders in what the government characterized as a crackdown on corruption. Most area specialists called it a consolidation of power by the 32-year-old reformer appointed in June to be successor to King Salman, his father.

The crown prince has instigated aggressive economic and cultural changes as well as the anti-Houthi militancy in Yemen.

As news spread of the arrests another surprise emerged from normally sedate Riyadh. Speaking on satellite television there Nov. 4, Saad Hariri announced his resignation as prime minister of Lebanon.

He mentioned an assassination plot against him and accused Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, of destabilizing the country.

Just a day earlier, he had received Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, in Beirut.

Hariri’s appearance in Riyadh might signal Saudi readiness to reengage with Lebanon, with which the kingdom has lost patience in recent years because of Iran’s growing influence through Hezbollah.

Against this background, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir sharpened the point on Bin Salman’s accusations against Iran by telling CNN on Nov. 6 that the missile targeting Riyadh had been launched but by Hezbollah itself from territory occupied by Houthis.

Earlier that day, according to CNN, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi described Saudi allegations about Tehran's involvement in the attack from Yemen as “false, irresponsible, destructive and provocative.”

Contact Bob Tippee at [email protected].