A Geopolitical Earthquake In The Middle East
This is now the ultimate game of leverage between Iran and the United States, with Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure being used by Tehran to win concessions from Washington.
There has been no call to war. The highest level this has reached (and keep in mind that the markets have already largely written off the incident) is for the US to announce a troop deployment to the Middle East, to defend Saudi Arabia and the UAE. That move in itself can be seen as a sign of weakness for these Gulf giants whose own alliance has been wrecked by Yemen and whose defense systems are now glaringly incapable of protecting strategic assets - even from the rogue Houthis (with, of course, Iranian aid).
Iran is now laying all of its cards on the table, offering to meet with Trump should the American president “do the right thing” and lift sanctions.
Back in Saudi Arabia, there is little time to consider the new geopolitical reality of a weakened Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). They’re too busy wondering what this will all mean for OPEC leadership, future vulnerability of oil installations, and the Aramco IPO.
There is a certain amount of skepticism as to whether the Saudi oil leadership will be able to meet its promise of getting Abqaiq - the world’s largest oil processing facility - repaired and fully operational by the end of this month.
Recent announcements, such as a notice to Japan’s NXTG Nippon Oil & Energy (Japan’s biggest oil distributor) that exports to Tokyo would be downgraded from light grade to heavy and medium in October quite possibly suggests things are not on track to meet the completion date.
The Saudis have made a point to note that they realize they are largely alone now, with the UAE having abandoned them in Yemen, and Trump having failed to push the red button on Iran. This is a Saudi Arabia weakened to the point that it becomes clear that being the world’s oil giant is not enough.
Qatar, for one, is having a media parade in celebration of this sentiment. Having been the victim of a rather unsuccessful economic blockade by Saudi Arabia and its allies, as it turns out, natural gas giant Qatar is far better protected. Qatari-run media has also been quick to point out that Aramco employees have ostensibly been threatened with severe disciplinary actions for sharing any images or videos of Saudi oil facilities that are currently being repaired.
We are set for a dramatic geopolitical reshuffling: The Saudis are suddenly openly vulnerable, the Aramco IPO is looking far less attractive, and the US under Trump doesn’t fit the profile of a country willing to go to bat wholeheartedly for the losing side.
What does this mean for OPEC? More importantly, what does it mean for Saudi Arabia’s dominance of OPEC? That was already in question long before the attacks, when the Saudis had to bring on Russia in order to make an oil price output cut relevant. And in the event of a war with Iran, oil prices would soar through the roof and there would not be a thing OPEC could do about it (which is exactly what Iran is banking on).
For now, MBS’ attempt to save face is to make sure everyone knows that he is considering doubling the stake offering in the Aramco IPO, news of which was leaked on Tuesday via the Wall Street Journal. That would mean floating up to 10% of Aramco, rather than only 5%