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Pieces of cruise missiles and drones recovered from the attack and identified by Saudi Arabia as Iranian. Photo: Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images

This past weekend's strikes on critical infrastructure at Saudi Arabia's second largest oil field at Khurais and its vital crude oil stabilization center at Abqaiq virtually eliminated the cushion of spare oil field capacity that typically prevents market panics during large supply disruptions.

Why it matters: The attack marks a major escalation of the proxy war between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran that has raged since 2015, though there have been previous acts of sabotage on oil facilities. Its success shakes confidence in Saudi Arabia's status as the global swing producer of spare oil supply, a role that has afforded Riyadh substantial influence.

Between the lines: The U.S. and its allies are now gaping at the failure of traditional paradigms of military deterrence in the age of asymmetric warfare, despite a buildup in U.S. Naval presence in recent months. This weekend's attack proved out Iran's destructive capabilities while testing American resolve to remain militarily active in the Middle East.

  • Iran's rulers are gambling that they can survive any punitive attack on their own military installations and that subsequent attacks by Iran or its proxies on Saudi or other high-value oil targets in the region would hurt the legitimacy of those Arab governments more than its own.
  • The complexities of the situation create a vast political dilemma for President Trump ahead of the 2020 election. His rhetoric about being tough on Iran is already ringing hollow, and initiating military action would likely meet even less popular support.

What to watch: The U.S. would need to spring into diplomatic hyperdrive to build a coalition at the United Nations and beyond for a unified approach.

  • But since the big economies of Europe and Asia depend far more on Middle East oil than the U.S., whose domestic production has risen substantially, Iran may hope it can undermine multilateral support for the U.S. sanctions campaign.

The bottom line: Submitting to militarized oil blackmail by Iran is in no one's long-term interests, either economically or geopolitically. To remove the current threat, the U.S. would likely need a strong international consensus like the one it was able to forge around the issue of shipping passage through the Strait of Hormuz.

Amy Myers Jaffe is the David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment at the Council on Foreign Relations and director of its program on energy security and climate change.

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - World

U.S. airstrike kills senior al-Qaeda leader in Syria, DOD says

A displacement camp near the village of Qah in Syria's northwestern Idlib province. Photo: Ahmad Al-Atrash/AFP via Getty Images

A U.S. airstrike in northwest Syria on Friday killed senior al-Qaeda leader Abdul Hamid al-Matar, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

Why it matters: Syria serves as a "safe haven" for the extremist group to plan external operations, according to U.S. Army Maj. John Rigsbee.

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Giuliani associate Lev Parnas convicted of campaign finance crimes

Lev Parnas, a former associate of then-President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Florida businessman Lev Parnas was convicted Friday on charges of conspiracy to make foreign contributions to political campaigns, according to multiple outlets.

Why it matters: Prosecutors said Parnas, then an associate of former President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, funneled over $150,000 from a Russian businessman into U.S. campaigns as part of an effort to land licenses in the U.S.'s legal cannabis industry.

Supreme Court agrees to hear challenges to Texas abortion law

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear two cases challenging Texas' abortion law, which bans the procedure as soon as six weeks into pregnancy, but left the law in place in the meantime.

Why it matters: The court is moving extraordinarily fast on the Texas cases, compressing into just a few days a process that normally takes months. And that schedule means the court will take up Texas' ban a month before it hears another major abortion case — a challenge to Mississippi's own 2018 ban on abortions after 15 weeks.