This news comes about a week after it was reported that OPEC had arrived at a long-sought framework agreement for the reduction of collective oil supplies, in the interest of stabilizing prices. That agreement in turn came after the failure of a meeting in April that would have established an output freeze, had Iran not refused to participate. The Iranian Oil Ministry has continued to maintain that Iranian production should not be constrained in any way until it reaches levels of at least four million barrels per day. Although the figure is disputed among international analysts, Iran generally maintains that this represents the country’s pre-sanctions output. Recent comments from some Iranian officials have gone so far as to identify Iran’s actual goal as an output of 5.7 million barrels per day by 2020.
The recent agreement did not settle the dispute over Iran’s market share, but rather pushed it to the side, with Saudi Arabia conceding to let Iran sit out the output freeze, along with Libya and Nigeria, while the other OPEC states aim to reduce output by up to 700,000 barrels per day. This week’s meeting in Istanbul will seek to include Iranian ally Russia in the agreement, as well, after it participated in the April meeting and subsequently advocated for Iran’s position on non-participation.
Some commentaries on the new situation interpret it as a victory for Iran, while others simply see it as a shift in focus for Saudi Arabia. But virtually all such analysis seems to regard the persistent lack of compromise as another in a long list of indicators of worsening relations between the Shiite Islamic Republic of Iran and the Sunni Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Economic discord aside, the sectarian divisions between the two Middle Easter powers contributes to their involvement in a series of proxy wars in the region, chiefly in Yemen, where a rebellion by the Iran-backed Houthi militia has ousted the government of President Abed Rabu Mansour Hadi and touched of a now 19 month long civil war.
The threat of growing Iranian influence on the Arabian Peninsula helped to motivate a coalition of Arab nations to become involved on behalf of the elected and Western-backed Hadi government. And since then, the war has increasingly threatened to expand further into the peninsula and the surrounding waters. This trend was highlighted by the Washington Post on Monday when it reported that two missiles had apparently been fired at a US Navy destroyer in the Red Sea, by the Iran-backed militants.
Although the Post admits that it is not known that the incident was a deliberate attempt to attack or threaten US forces, it notes that the evidence points toward that conclusion. The two launches reportedly occurred an hour apart, yet nearly struck the same vessel, in an area not near fighting between the two factions of the civil war. And similarly notable is the fact that it comes in the wake of a wide variety of provocations directed against the US Navy by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, including close-proximity “test-firing” or rockets and high-speed approaches of US warships by IRGC patrol boats.
The Post also points out that the Houthi missile launches on Sunday closely coincided with a ballistic missile launch that originated from Yemen and struck a Saudi air base near Mecca. The report described it as “the deepest strike yet into the kingdom by Shiite rebels and their allies.” The two incidents were arguably related, as the Shiite faction seeks to lash out more powerfully against not only the head of the Arab coalition, but also its traditional allies, chiefly the United States.
Both incidents also came approximately a day after a Saudi-led airstrike in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, which killed more than 150 people and wounded more than 500. As well as possibly motivating the military response, the strike certainly generated a public relations response from Tehran, with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Bahram Qasemi accusing the international community of silence in the face of the killing of innocents.
Qasemi also used the response to describe the Arab coalition as “belligerent aggressors” and to call for dialogue aimed at ending the conflict, according to New Kerala. With the blessing of the US, Iran has already been a participant in such international dialogue over the Syrian Civil War, but has been condemned for intransigence in its position regarding the future of the Bashar al-Assad regime. Meanwhile, Qasemi’s commentary on the crisis in Yemen seem to disregard the various accusations that Iran instigated the Houthi rebellion and then continued to provide weapons and material support to those rebels while also condemning an attempted revolution in Syria.