Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[op-ed snap] The fires of Arabia


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Houthi attack on Saudi - Peace in the Middle East


The drone attacks on major Saudi hydrocarbon facilities have led to a spike in world oil prices. 

Facts of the issue

  • The attacks are claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
  • It has knocked out more than half of Saudi crude output and5% of the global oil supplies. 
  • Oil industry experts say the damage is serious and Saudi Arabia will not be able to quickly make up for the shortfall in production close to 5.7 million barrels a day. 

Marginal global impact

  • Global oil production expanded in recent years and there is the emergence of new major exporters like the US.
  • The world could possibly absorb the new oil shock without too much pain.

Challenges remain

  • Drone attacks have exposed the massive vulnerability of Saudi oil production 
  • Houthis have promised to attack again if Saudi Arabia continues its four-year-old war against them
  • The other is the danger of escalation in the tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran that has enveloped the region in proxy wars. 
  • If Saudi Arabia has supported the government in Yemen in the tragic civil war, Iran has been the main backer of the Houthi rebels. 
  • Iran has backed the Houthi right to self-defense against Saudi Arabia. 
  • The US decision to blame Iran after the attack appeared to push the region to the brink of a new war. 
  • In the last couple of years, Iran has seen most of its oil exports vanish due to the American sanctions. 
  • Though Iran can hurt Saudi oil production, a military confrontation with the US could set Tehran back by decades. 

Way ahead

  • The recent developments offer an opportunity for all sides to step back. 
  • The US and Saudi Arabia have miscalculated that Iran would cave under the current campaign to put “maximum pressure”.
  • The current lose-lose situation should open the door for sensible compromises all around. 
  • India, which is friends with all the actors in the Middle East, can easily do more than being a passive observer. 
  • Like Japan and Europe, which are trying to calm the waters, India too must step in to nudge the region towards military restraint and political engagement.
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