This weekend’s massive drone strike by Yemen’s Ansarullah rebels against the world’s largest oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia was a classic David vs. Goliath moment where a smaller force inflicted a devastating blow against their much larger opponent, one which even surpasses its legendary predecessor because of its potential global consequences.
The world was reminded of the biblical story of David vs. Goliath over the weekend after a massive drone strike by Yemen’s Ansarullah rebels against the world’s largest oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia represented an unforgettable modern-day manifestation of a smaller force inflicting a devastating blow against their much larger opponent. The attack was condemned by almost the entire international community, including Russia which described it as “an alarming event for the oil markets” and promised to “strongly condemn” the incident if it was proven to have actually been a drone strike like reported, and Iran’s enemies immediately sought to capitalize on it by linking the Islamic Republic to what happened in an attempt to increase already unprecedented pressure on that country. Tehran denied the claims being made against it, but that hasn’t stopped some in the American administration from insisting that their rival was responsible.
It’s difficult to predict what will happen next, but obtaining a more informed understanding of the larger context involved could help observers get a better grip on this rapidly evolving situation. The first issue to address is why this even happened at all. Gun-for-gun and dollar-for-dollar, the Ansarullah are no match for the Saudi-led coalition, which is why they’ve had to resort to asymmetrical warfare for the entirety of this nearly half-decade-long conflict that’s since been recognized by the UN as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The conflict has reached a stalemate, especially following the UAE’s large-scale withdrawal and the rise of their South Yemeni separatist allies in their wake, though Saudi Arabia is ignoring which way the proverbial wind is blowing and has yet to lessen its involvement in the war because it can’t find a “face-saving” way to do so.
Crown Prince MbS fears that an “undignified withdrawal” might provoke some members of the royalist elite into pursuing (another?) “palace coup” attempt against him, yet continuing to participate in this increasingly unpopular war harms his country’s international standing. Thrown onto the horns of this dilemma by none other than its Emirati coalition “ally”, Saudi Arabia has remained in a state of strategic paralysis since this summer and refused to use take advantage of this opportunity to engage in a large-scale withdrawal as well. The Ansarullah therefore sought to exploit this by carrying out a devastating drone raid against the world’s largest oil production facility that would naturally force the Saudis’ hand and therefore exacerbate the dilemma that it’s presently in. There was no way that MBS could ignore what happened, yet any massive military response like the one that’s expected will only serve to drag him deeper into this quagmire.
This might have been the worst possible time for such a crisis to happen too, both for Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world. About the first-mentioned, it just replaced its Oil Minister with a member of the royal family for the first time in decades, which upset the delicate inter-elite balance that was already rocked by MbS’ controversial “anti-corruption” campaign from two years ago. This crisis therefore represents the Oil Minister’s first real challenge less than a week into the job. Not only that, but oil revenue constitutes the bulk of the Saudi budget, which has been under strain as it is by the rising costs of the War on Yemen and the slump in global oil prices. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia is in the midst of a systemic economic transition (“Vision 2030“) towards its inevitable post-oil future, but the success of MbS’ ambitious plans rests on reliably receiving oil revenue in order to properly fund it, which has just been thrown into doubt after the attack by 10 inexpensive drones.
Concerning the interests that the rest of the world have in this crisis, it’s obvious that a war with Iran and/or a worsening of the humanitarian situation in Yemen through large-scale Saudi bombings would be extremely undesirable for all, but there are also more “selfish” ones at play too. Potentially higher oil prices could lead to inflation, which might be enough to finally push some of the developed economies (specifically the US, EU, and China) into a recession that could in turn catalyze another global economic crisis. There are likely some self-interested forces who would like to see this happen (such as Trump’s “deep state” foes), but all responsible stakeholders are doing their best to prevent this scenario. Still, because of this latest attack’s potentially global consequences in this respect, it stands as an event of out-sized importance, one that takes the David vs. Goliath metaphor to an entirely new level but also somewhat changes the story based on the modern circumstances.
David’s slingshot in this example was the Ansarullah’s drones, the shots of which were heard around the world, though the Saudi Goliath hasn’t (yet?) fallen. That same Goliath, though, is internally divided given the Saudis’ inter-elite divisions, and its overall wellness (in this case, structural and more specifically economic stability) isn’t that good either. David (or the Ansarullah) also isn’t undamaged, but has been pummeled over and over by a vastly superior force that’s inflicted massive collateral damage to those that he cares about too (the Yemen people, especially those in the North). Nevertheless, David isn’t giving up, but is doubling down on his asymmetrical warfare capabilities in the hope of either taking Goliath down himself or getting someone else to intervene in restraining him (the International Community), with only time telling how this new legend will end.
By Andrew Korybko
Source: One World