The Middle East appears to be sliding into a war that may have already begun. At its center are archrivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, their proxies and U.S. President Donald Trump. Regional stability hangs by a thread. By DER SPIEGEL Staff
Tensions are rising in the Middle East.
September 25, 2019
In normal times, the Officers Club on Riyadh’s King Abdul Aziz Road is a rather secretive place. But last Wednesday evening, there was a line of visitors snaking away from its door. Arabic could be heard, along with English and a few fragments of French.
After the security inspection, visitors enter a darkened hallway, reminiscent of a movie theater, that lead to a lecture hall: blue plush seats in ascending rows facing a brightly lit wood-paneled stage. It is generally a place where senior military officers gather to discuss their secret plans, but last week, it played host to around 80 diplomats and several international journalists, there at the invitation of the world’s most important oil exporting nation. Among them were high-ranking officials in flowing robes. It was a rather unique event: The Saudi military was putting its wounds on display to the world.
A half-dozen pedestals had been erected onstage to present evidence: large steel fragments that had been twisted and bent by the force of the explosion. The objects were the remnants of cruise missiles and drones, some of the weapons Saudis claim set the country’s two biggest oil facilities on fire earlier this month.
The attacks represent an unprecedented humiliation for the Saudis and it quickly became clear in the Officers Club that the kingdom feels disgraced, angry and injured. It also became clear that the Saudis are certain who was behind the attack: “Iranian parts and components,” says military spokesman Colonel Turki Al-Maliki as he walks briskly among the pedestals. It is, Maliki said, “without a doubt” that his country’s archenemy on the other side of the Persian Gulf was behind the attack.
“How will you respond to the attack?” a journalist asked Maliki. Will it be a military response? “That is not for me to decide,” the military man responded. At almost precisely the same time, though, a man who is instrumental to the search for a response landed in the coastal city of Jeddah, 950 kilometers (600 miles) away. And prior to his arrival in Jedda, that man — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — made it clear how he saw the attack. He called it an “act of war.”
But what, exactly, will be the consequence?
It was three months ago that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard shot down a $100-million American surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf. Washington initially planned a retaliatory strike, but President Donald Trump called off the operation at the last minute, supposedly because too many Iranians would have died as a result. Instead, the U.S. military reacted with a cyber-attack against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
Now, the biggest refinery in the world has been attacked, and even if there is no unassailable legal evidence, there is much to suggest that Iran was behind it. “I would say all the evidence points to Iran, not just forensic evidence, but logically,” says Vali Nasr, a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Washington.