Iran's Press TV headlined its coverage on Sunday with a not-so-subtle jab at the ramifications of the attack on Saudi oil processing facilities. With Saudi production reduced, the US should give Iran waivers to export oil. To make this argument, Iranian media highlighted experts' opinions, but the message is clear: Iran's oil industry can benefit from what happened in Saudi Arabia.
Since May, the one-year anniversary of the US leaving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or Iran Deal, Iran has been seeking ways to pressure the world to stop America's sanctions. The US wants to drive Iranian oil exports to near zero. But Iran has other plans. First it has approached, China, Russia and India to encourage them to ignore US sanctions.
Iran's oil industry may benefit from what happened in Saudi Arabia.
For instance, Iran's ambassador to India urged the country on September 10 to renew imports. In addition, Iran wants investment in its oil sector, to the tune of hundreds of billions. It says that it has gotten support from China to invest in its petrochemical sectors. Tehran also approached Russia about a possible $10 billion investment.
It is in this context that Iran has sought push-back against US sanctions. The first part of the plan is to encourage rising powers, such as China, to join with other countries around Central Asia and balance the US hegemony in order to make a multi-polar world. Conferences and summits in central Asia in June – including the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – were part of that agenda.
Forging ahead with China and Russia is just one part of the agenda. The second part is to develop oil and gas resources and pressure other players. Six attacks on tankers and the seizing of a British tanker have been part of rising Gulf tensions since May. The US has blamed Iran for the attacks, which appears to have grabbed the tanker in response to a July 4 raid by the UK that detained an Iranian tanker on the way to Syria. Eventually that tanker was allowed to continue. Tehran also announced this week that it will be developing the Belal gas field in the Persian Gulf with a $440 million contract with Iran's Petropars.
This is only one of many deals that have been up in the air due to the changes in US sanctions. For example, France's Total was reported wanting to invest $5 billion in phase 11 of Iran's South Pars gas field. But that was upended by US withdrawal from the JCPOA. Iran's message is that things will go ahead even if it has to sign agreements with others. Its media is also saying that Saudi Arabia is "defenseless" against further strikes.
Meanwhile, Iran's Tasnim News Agency says that rockets had targeted US ships in the Gulf in June, and that Yemen's alleged long-distance drone strikes are changing the rules of war in the region. New wells are being opened at the South Pars gas field, and it all appears part of a grand strategy. That strategy combines Iran's attempts to get around sanctions while simultaneously seeking to pressure oil markets.
Seth Frantzman, a writing fellow at the Middle East Forum, is the author of After ISIS: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East (2019), the op-ed editor of The Jerusalem Post, and a founder of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.